NATIONAL Hunt racing is going to feel a very different place when tomorrow’s card at Sandown is concluded and the reality that we won’t see AP McCoy in the saddle again starts to sink in.
McCoy failed to win the final race of the Cheltenham Festival, renamed in his honour, but he has a fine chance aboard Mr Mole in the final Grade One of the UK season, the AP McCoy Celebration Chase (3.15pm).
This horse was always thought of as a monkey by his jockey, but trainer Paul Nicholls retained the faith and it looked earlier in the season, after the gelding racked up a four-timer, that he’d turned a corner.
But he fluffed his lines in the Betway Champion Chase at the Festival, when finishing eighth of nine.
Mr Mole is a course and distance winner, but his form is on a softer surface. His wayward tendencies are enough to put me off anyway and the value has to lie with Henry de Bromhead’s SPECIAL TIARA at 10/3 with Betway.
This trailblazer was an excellent third in the Champion Chase, way clear of Mr Mole, and should be hard to catch on decent ground at this track.
The son of Kayf Tara comes here fresher than God’s Own and Vibrato Valtat, who were both in action at Aintree recently. Sprinter Sacre is a shadow of the horse that won a Tingle Creek by 15 lengths a few years ago and the veteran Somersby has a poor strike rate.
If Mr Mole does win then punters may not get to see McCoy ride in the bet365 Gold Cup (3.50pm) as the Northern Irishman might retire on the spot. That would be a nice piece of symmetry as it was back in February he announced his intention to quit after winning on the same horse.
With final declarations not out for the 3m 5½f chase until later this morning, there’s a fair bit of guesswork involved on who McCoy will ride, but it’s GRAND JESTURE I want to back, another from the de Bromhead stable.
This one was an excellent second to the progressive The Druids Nephew at the Festival, showing a great attitude once headed to gallop all the way to the line. The winner that day may have won the Grand National if he hadn’t fallen late on and, whatever way you look at it, Grand Jesture is very well-handicapped off just 1lb higher.
He’s had a light season and connections have decided to come here for the better ground rather than go to Punchestown. The question is whether he will stay, but we can take encouragement from the way the horse has finished off his races over three miles. Betway’s 12/1 is a good each-way bet.
Le Reve is solid at the head of the market but looks better with cut in the ground and 8/1 is no value.
One at a big price to have a saver on is BALLY LEGEND at 33/1. This one won the Betbright Chase two years ago and showed signs of a revival when beaten four lengths in a hot handicap over too short a trip last month.
Another who has had a light campaign, Caroline Keevil’s charge might be able to get into a good rhythm and outrun his big odds in a field where so many have had long seasons or whose form figures are more alphabetical than numerical.
SPECIAL TIARA 3.15pm Sandown (tomorrow)
GRAND JESTURE e/w 3.50pm Sandown (tomorrow)
BALLY LEGEND e/w 3.50pm Sandown (tomorrow)