Nicky Henderson’s Arkle winner Altior is the star name at Sandown as the jumps season in Britain ends, while Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins are set to battle to the wire to be champion trainer in Ireland.
It looks unlikely that Paul Nicholls will be able to mount a late challenge to championship leader Henderson in Britain but the leading duo in Ireland are engaged in a battle royal as Elliott, seeking a first ever title, looks to hold off the fast-finishing Mullins in his bid for ten-in-a-row.
At Sandown, Altior will be seeking to end his stunning novice campaign by proving himself against the Queen Mother Champion Chaser, Special Tiara. The younger horse is odds-on at 3/10 to win the Celebration Chas and in all probability, even a reproduction of his Cheltenham run won’t be enough for Henry De Bromhead’s admirable frontrunner to stop him here. Special Tiara trades at 4/1 for the Sandown Grade One.
Earlier on Saturday’s card at the Esher venue, the veteran Menorah is 15/8 to land the Oaksey Chase for the fourth successive season. Now 12, Philip Hobbs’ charge may be vulnerable to a young pretender and Traffic Fluide, receiving 10lbs, fits the bill perfectly at 4/1 for trainer Gary Moore at a track where his runners tend to do well. He looks the value call.
In the Sandown Gold Cup, last year’s winner The Young Master is 13/2 to oblige once more for trainer Neil Mulholland. He may find that his bid is undone by stablemate Doing Fine, an easy winner at Cheltenham recently and a 9/2 chance to score in this Grade Three over three-mile-and-four-furlongs in the hands of Tom Scudamore.
On the off chance that their trainers’ championship battle does come down to the wire, Nicholls and Henderson find themselves in the unusual position where they account for seven of the eight runners in the Grade Two Select Hurdle at Sandown.
Across in Ireland, Elliott and Mullins will be firing as many darts at the board as possible on the final day of their intriguing battle.
The Mares Champion Hurdle could prove a vital clash for Elliott and his Apple’s Jade – formerly trained by Mullins – is the favourite to score. Victorious at Cheltenham last month, she can hold off Augusta Kate to record another top-level success.
The yards will also clash in the Champion Four Year Old Hurdle, the last of Punchestown’s Grade One races, with Bapaume and Mega Fortune closely matched on form.
It looks like being a photo finish in the trainers’ championship and Davy Russell on board Mega Fortune might be able to get Elliott’s head out in front with the winning post in sight.
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