Alan Thomson, the former Racing Editor at the Daily Record, puts up five tips at Sandown Park on Saturday. View selections below.
MR MOLE (3.15) can bring the house down at a sardine-packed Sandown Park by providing Tony McCoy with a fairy-tale victory in the bet365-sponsored Celebration Chase named in his honour. Mr Mole was never in the hunt behind Dodging Bullets in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase but Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old has never looked particularly happy coping with Cheltenham’s undulations. That defeat ended a sequence of four straight victories, all on soft ground, including over today’s course and distance in early January. The track has been well watered and any showers around before flagfall would be welcomed by connections. Former champion chaser Sprinter Sacre adds even more lustre and intrigue as he bids to recapture his pre-injury brilliance. Throw in top Irish raider Special Tiara, God’s Own, Vibrato Valtat, plus old boy Somersby, and we have race living up to its exalted title.
McCoy has only two rides on the card and, appropriately, AP’s farewell mount is for Jonjo O’Neill and JP McManus aboard Box Office in the bet365 Handicap Hurdle. What a highly-emotional victory that would be in front of his adoring public and the horse has clearly been cherry-picked to give McCoy every chance of an historic send-off. However, Box Office arrives here on the back of two tough races at Cheltenham and Aintree (seventh on both occasions) and RAYVIN BLACK (4.25) could prove the ultimate party pooper. Grand National-winning trainer Oliver Sherwood has kept him fresh since just denied by Ebony Express in the William Hill Imperial Cup and Rayvin Black had earlier shown his liking for Sandown when landing the 32Red Handicap.
The bet365 Gold Cup demands very different qualities over an extended trip of 3m 5f and young pretender ALGERNON PAZHAM (3.50) is fancied to go close for Nigel Twiston-Davies. Algernon Pazham gets in at the foot of the weights and young Jamie Bargary takes off 7lb. A winner at Leicester and Warwick earlier in the season, Algernon Pazham was serving it up to Nicholls’ heavily-backed winner Virak in the 888sport.com Chase at Haydock when virtually stopped in his tracks by an almighty blunder two out. That was an uncharacteristic error and the six-year-old remains unexposed at this level. Another lightweight, Guess Again, was travelling smoothly when falling at Cheltenham and Tony Martin has booked Paul Townend to do the steering.
On a gala occasion, popular AL FEROF (2.35) can defy top weight in the bet365 Oaksey Chase. The 10-year-old grey has been a stalwart for owner John Hales and the 2011 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero was last seen earlier this month at Aintree behind classy Don Cossack. That run followed his excellent third to Silviniaco Conti in the William Hill King George at Kempton and Al Ferof thumped Somersby at Ascot earlier in the season.
In the opening juvenile hurdle, VOSNE ROMANEE (2.00) can go well at an each-way price for another Grand National-honoured trainer, Dr Richard Newland. My selection has a bit to find with his Ascot conqueror Lil Rockerfeller but the combination of a 7lb swing and slightly sounder surface should bring them closer together.
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