ANOTHER season of National Hunt racing draws to a damp end at Sandown tomorrow and the Bet365 Gold Cup (3.10pm) looks set to be run on bottomless ground. At the time of writing, the going at the Esher track was described as heavy and I am not sure that the meeting would survive another deluge.
Now, finding the winner of the end of term feature has been no easy feat in recent seasons as 25/1 and 20/1 winners in two of the last four years prove. In fact, you have to go back 12 years to find the last winning favourite.
The final field won’t be declared until later this morning, but it’s obvious to see why the money has arrived for Welsh National winner Le Beau Bai. He is one of the only guaranteed stayers in the line-up who relishes a soft surface. However, he no longer holds any secrets from the handicapper and all of his best form seems to be at left-handed tracks like Chepstow and Haydock.
I’m prepared to give him a miss at just 6/1 and would rather throw a few quid at the classy Paul Nicholls-trained TIDAL BAY at 10/1 with Coral. Admittedly, it will take a monumental effort to shoulder 11st12lb in this ground, but the 11-year-old may just warm to the task.
Ruby Walsh is a master at nursing quirky but talented animals like him and another positive is that the ground should hold no fears. There is always a danger with Tidal Bay that he can get too far back in the early stages of a race and a slower pace tomorrow can only help.
At a far bigger price, I’m prepared to take a small each-way risk on KNIGHTON COMBE at 40/1. The fact that he is in form, handles the ground and stays the trip stands him in a lot better stead than many of his rivals, and with four places up for grabs he is decent value.
Knighton Combe is set to be ridden by the talented Brendan Powell who has also been booked to ride old friend ACT OF KALANISI in the 2.00pm contest. He races off just a 4lb higher mark than when successful over this trip on soft ground at Ascot last year and he ran far better at Cheltenham and Aintree than his finishing positions suggest.
The Gordon Richards Stakes (3.45pm) is the highlight of the flat action and POET looks the best option with a run under his belt and he comes from an in-form stable. He loves soft ground and got within a length of Workforce over course and distance just over a year ago.
Finally, hats off to Investec and Epsom Downs Racecourse who have just announced a 10 year extension to the Derby Festival sponsorship until 2021. The new deal represents the biggest sponsorship agreement in British racing history and sees the Investec Derby reinstated as the richest race in the UK offering a prize fund of £1,325,000 in 2012.
You can follow me on Twitter @BillEsdaile.
ACT OF KALANISI e/w
2.00pm Sandown (tomorrow)
TIDAL BAY e/w
3.10pm Sandown (tomorrow)
KNIGHTON COMBE e/w
3.10pm Sandown (tomorrow)
POET e/w 3.45pm Sandown (tomorrow)