The National Hunt season in the UK comes to an end this weekend with Sandown Park once again playing host to the finale of the campaign. The whole of the National Hunt community will have their eyes fixed firmly on Sandown with some excellent racing set to bring the curtain down on what has been a thrilling winter. It is a two-day meeting and gives trainers and jockeys one last chance to pick up a big winner before the season ends and there are some excellent races in prospect.
The feature day will of course be on Saturday afternoon and all eyes will be on the famous Bet365 Gold Cup. The race has been won by some legendary horses down the years including Desert Orchid, Arkle and Mill house and while we won't see another winner of that calibre this weekend, we can still look forward to an exciting renewal of this Grade 3 contest over 3m5f. Only the strongest of stayers will have a chance of winning this one and those type of horses are dominating the head of the market at the moment.
One horse who is a likely runner is Same Difference for Nigel Twiston-Davies and he ran a stormer in this race twelve months ago when only second to Quentin Collonges. Same Difference (10/1) has proven to be a dour stayer over the past 18 months and seems to relish the decent ground that invariably comes up at this time of year. Burton Port (14/1) was last seen unseating his rider in the Grand National but is reported to be in good form and plenty fancy the Jonjo O'Neill horse to find some of his old spark this weekend, and win the Bet365 Gold Cup.
The big Grade 1 race on the season finale card at Sandown in the Celebration Chase over two miles and one of the stars of the sport is set to make an appearance. Sire De Grugy has swept all before him in the two mile chase division this season and connections have said that he is a likely runner this weekend as he bids to win another Grade 1 race. The Gary Moore trained eight-year-old won the Tingle Creek at Sandown back in December and will start a heavy favourite for the Celebration Chase if he does, as expected, take up his engagement on Saturday.
Sire De Grugy will run as long as the ground description doesn't include the word firm and with some rain forecast this week that is now looking highly unlikely. Potential opponents for the Champion Chaser include Somersby, who was second in the Queen Mother at Cheltenham, and Kauto Stone, who has been a hugely inconsistent performer for Paul Nicholls over the past year or so.
As well as the fantastic racing at Sandown, the end of season prizes will be handed out to the Champion Jockey and the Champion Trainer. Two familiar men will be picking up trophies with AP McCoy set to lift the jockeys crown for a stuning 17th time in his career, while Paul Nicholls will pick up the trainers title for the eighth time. It has been an excellent season for Nicholls with the Master of Ditcheat wrestling the crown back off of Nicky Henderson who famously won the title 12 months ago.