Sandown stages the last day of the jumps season on Saturday and the new season begins on Monday even though the first meeting is not until next Saturday. Richard Johnson and Nicky Henderson will be honoured as the leading jockey and trainer and everyone goes back to zero at the start of next week. The highlight of the season finale is the “Whitbread” which is now called the bet365 Gold Cup. Two unlucky runners in the Grand National and Scottish version are leading contenders.
Blaklion was brought down at the first fence of the National while The Young Master fell at the same obstacle at Ayr last Saturday. Neither horse had a run even though they continued rider less. Both horses have top class form from earlier in their careers and could be well in at the weights. The bet365 chase is run over three miles five furlongs which is two laps of Sandown and there are 24 fences. Horses aged five and older are eligible for this handicap chase but experience of the track is important. There are seven fences down the back straight and getting in to a rhythm is paramount.
Four horses have won the race twice but there have been no 3-times winners. The leading jockey and trainer have not won the race is 1984. The race was first run in 1957 and it was the first race to be sponsored. A five-year-old has not prevailed in the history of the race and only two horses aged six have won it. Since 2000 only four winners have carried 11 stone or more and twice in the last three years the winner carried the minimum weight of 10 stone. Richard Johnson, Ruby Walsh and AP McCoy have had two wins since 2000 and are the leading jockeys of the current era.
Blaklion was fancied for this year’s National, having finished fourth in the race last year. It was unfortunate to be brought down at the first fence and nobody knows what might have been. Blaklion was proven over the fences and is a Grade 1 chase winner so could have carried the weight. Saturday’s chase should be in his comfort zone and Blaklion can win off top weight and The Young Master can make the frame. The horse unshipped the jockey right at the beginning of the Scottish National. The prizes are handed out, the season ends and the new season begins immediately.
Punchestown stages the fifth and final day of their festival on Saturday and it’s the last day of the jumps season in Ireland. Grand National winning jockey Dave Russell will be crowned the champion jockey but the trainer’s title is still up for grabs. Going in to the third day of Punchestown on Thursday Willie Mullins had forged ahead after a six-timer the previous day. He had a strong hand over the rest of the meeting but the championship might go down to the wire and the last day of the season. The Punchestown Champion Hurdle could be the decider.
Samcro has never raced out of novice company but that could all change in the Grade 1 race that carries €275,000 in prize money. The championship could come down to one single race and Mullins could have up to five runners. The trainer will throw some big guns at the race if the title is on the line. Samcro has done nothing wrong and deserves a crack at the Champion. The horse can win at the highest level and Elliott can be the leading trainer in Ireland for the first time.