There is no doubt that the Sportingbet Tingle Creek Chase (3.05pm) is the highlight of the weekend with the showdown between SPRINTER SACRE and Sanctuaire sure to get the pulses racing.
Nicky Henderson’s brilliant Arkle winner never saw another rival last season and, although Sanctuaire is likely to provide his sternest test yet, I’m confident he will pass the assignment with flying colours.
The slight worry for Sprinter supporters is the potential for very soft ground, something that his rival is proven on, but I have no concerns about that whatsoever.
He just looks to be in a completely different league to everything else and even though we’re not going to get rich backing him at 1/2, he is simply unopposable.
Overturn is unlikely to line up in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase if it’s soft, in which case Captain Conan will be another Henderson hotpot. I think he’ll win, but a better bet is IFANDBUTWHYNOT in the Sportingbet Handicap Hurdle at 2.30pm.
David O’Meara has had a tremendous year on the flat, but he is now looking like a serious dual-purpose trainer and Ifandbutwhynot won really well last time out at Cheltenham. He showed that he handles soft ground well that day and could still be well-handicapped off a mark of 130.
The big race up in Liverpool is the Betfred Becher Chase (2.10pm) where 2011 Grand National winner Ballabriggs heads the weights. Donald McCain’s 11-year-old loves it around here, but he is never normally fully tuned up for his seasonal reappearance and I’m happy to look elsewhere.
Into The Red, in 1994 and 1996, is the only horse to ever win this race twice in its 20-year existence.
He could be joined in the history books tomorrow, though, as Alan King’s WEST END ROCKER looks to hold outstanding claims of following up last year’s demolition job.
He absolutely relished the bottomless conditions 12 months ago, so the rain on Merseyside this week will have been music to King’s ears. He is only 5lb higher and, following a perfectly satisfactory return in the Badger Ales Chase, he should go close at 6/1 with Coral.
There are plenty of others in there with a chance, none more so than Join Together for Paul Nicholls, who is going for a fourth win in the race in the last nine years. However, he may just lack the experience needed for such a brutal test and his run at Ascot last month wasn’t great.
Dessie Hughes is another with a strong record in this race and it wouldn’t be a surprise if his old boy In Compliance ran a big race, while the same could also be said of 2010 winner Hello Bud. Earlier on the card, King looks to have another big chance with L’UNIQUE in the juvenile fillies’ hurdle (12.35pm). This is her first start on British soil, but she has reportedly been working very well at home and this race shouldn’t take too much winning.
There is some decent action at Sandown this afternoon and with runners from both the Nicholls and Henderson yard in the four-runner Sportingbet Future Stars Chase (2.20pm), I’ll be hoping that Lucinda Russell’s BOLD SIR BRIAN will be a reasonable price.
He hammered his rivals at Carlisle last time on heavy ground and looks like a chaser going places. He comes out easily the best at the weights and should have too much for his three rivals.
Finally, don’t miss SATOU for the in-form Philip Hobbs team in the amateur riders’ handicap chase (2.55pm). He won over the same distance at this meeting 12 months ago and has run well to be second on both his starts this season.
You can follow me on Twitter @BillEsdaile for all my latest views.
BOLD SIR BRIAN 2.10pm Sandown (today)
SATOU e/w 2.55pm Sandown (today)
L’UNIQUE 12.35pm Aintree (tomorrow)
WEST END ROCKER e/w 2.10pm Aintree (tomorrow)
IFANDBUTWHYNOT e/w 2.30pm Sandown (tomorrow)
SPRINTER SACRE 3.05pm Sandown (tomorrow)