In recent years Sandown’s National Hunt season finale has been a little formulaic – no-one has had much of a look-in except AP McCoy and Paul Nicholls.
But this year is going to be different.
As we all know, McCoy has retired and the whole jumping fraternity will be united in celebration on Saturday for Richard Johnson, who will be crowned Stobart Champion Jump Jockey for the first time having finished runner-up on 16 occasions.
Betway ambassador Johnson has waltzed to the title this season – Aidan Coleman, his nearest pursuer, is roughly 100 winners behind.
This is a dream fulfilled for the 38-year-old from Herefordshire and he is certain to get a wonderful reception as he raises aloft the fantastic new trophy that has been commissioned by Great British Racing and created by Asprey of London.
However, on the day, an even bigger story is going to be the battle between nine-time champion trainer Nicholls and Willie Mullins, who is aiming to become the first Irish-based handler to win the trainers’ title since Vincent O’Brien in 1954.
It will all make for a fascinating day’s racing and there’s every chance that the battle could go down to the very last handicap hurdle at 5.55pm.
Regardless of all these storylines, the biggest race of the day is the bet365 Gold Cup (4.10pm).
Nicholls, who has won two of the last four renewals, has the favourite in Southfield Theatre who was unluckily brought down at Cheltenham last time.
This has been the plan for him all season and if it works as well as it did with Vicente in last week’s Scottish Grand National, then Mullins is going to be in trouble.
A repeat of his second to Don Poli in last year’s RSA Chase would make him very hard to beat in this, although I’m not convinced he’s brilliantly handicapped off a mark of 150.
His yard is in flying form, but I’m not willing to back him at just 7/1 with Betway.
Neil Mulholland looks as though he’s going to throw three darts at this prize and I’m hoping he can hit the bullseye with THE YOUNG MASTER.
The seven-year-old has some really solid form going right-handed and ran an excellent race to be third in the Ultima Handicap at the Festival last month.
He relishes good ground and the step up in trip is sure to suit, so Betway’s 10/1 looks a more than fair each-way price.
The Celebration Chase (3.35pm) sees a Betway Champion Chase re-match between SPRINTER SACRE and Un De Sceaux and I’m firmly in the former’s camp.
Un De Sceaux struggled on the quicker ground at Cheltenham and conditions are likely to play to Sprinter’s strengths again tomorrow.
We won’t know the final declarations for the Select Hurdle (4.45pm) until later this morning, but I’m quite keen on COURT MINSTREL nicking a place at 33/1.
Vroum Vroum Mag will be very hard to beat if she runs, but my selection has some very solid form on decent ground.
For those of you looking for a bet on the flat on Saturday, you could do worse than backing Sir Michael Stoute’s ULYSSES in the maiden at Leicester (5.10pm).
Storm The Stars won this before finishing third in the Investec Derby 12 months ago.
Ulysses is also entered at Epsom and is reportedly pretty high up the pecking order at Freemason Lodge.
Sprinter Sacre 3.35pm Sandown
The Young Master e/w 4.10pm Sandown
Court Minstrel e/w 4.45pm Sandown
Ulysses 5.10pm Sandown