Timeform preview Saturday's Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Sandown and have a fancy at the foot of the weights...
"there’s every reason to think extreme distances will suit last year’s Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase winner."
Timeform on Bigbadjohn
Known for much of its history as the Whitbread Gold Cup, during which time it was won by the likes of Arkle and Desert Orchid, the 2002 winner of the last big handicap chase of the season at Sandown was Bounce Back, who rewarded supporters of the Martin Pipe and Tony McCoy combination with unusually generous odds of 14/1.
It was only a few years later that the word 'bouncebackability' entered the language, apparently coined by the then Crystal Palace manager Ian Dowie. It now has official status in the Collins English Dictionary which gives the definition as 'the ability to recover after a setback, esp in sport.' A brief scan through the form figures of the entries in what is now known as the bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown reveals plenty of horses, going there after a non-completion last time out, who will need to demonstrate bouncebackability to take the prize on Saturday.
Not least among them is top weight Blaklion who got no further than the first, where he was brought down, when a leading fancy for the Grand National two weeks ago. Fourth in last year's National, Blaklion underlined that's he's a natural over those big fences when winning the Becher Chase before finishing a well-beaten second in the Grand National Trial at Haydock on desperately heavy ground. Much better was expected of him, following a wind operation, at Aintree, and despite his big weight he's on a mark to be competitive back over conventional fences.
Ucello Conti got a lot further than Blaklion in the Grand National and was at the head of affairs for much of the way before he was ultimately let down by his jumping on the second circuit for the second year running. He was still close up, though probably beginning to feel the pinch, when unseating four from home, but he's clearly on a competitive mark and is long overdue a first success since joining Gordon Elliott from France. Houblon des Obeaux is the other Grand National casualty among the entries, coming down at Becher's on the first circuit, though conditions are unlikely to be soft enough for him to gain compensation here.
2016 winner The Young Master is another very much looking to bounce back after his early exit in last week's Scottish Grand National - not the first time he and regular rider Sam Waley-Cohen have parted company. But given a clear round, The Young Master is well treated on his old form, now 16 lb lower than when only ninth in last year's race when going to Sandown on the back of a fall in the Grand National. He'd hinted at a revival on his last completed start when a staying-on sixth in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir at Cheltenham. That race was won by Missed Approach who's disputing favouritism with Blaklion. Another to have had a breathing operation this season, Missed Approach has a good record over long distances but has been put up 8 lb for his Cheltenham win which came under a well-judged ride from the front.
If any trainer has demonstrated bouncebackability in the past week then it's Rebecca Curtis who, by her own admission, had endured a miserable season until Joe Farrell sprung a surprise in last Saturday's Scottish Grand National and it's not out of the question that Relentless Dreamer, who has been performing better than many from his yard, could give the stable another big staying handicap. Philip Hobbs is another trainer whose stable has been out of sorts for much of the season but is looking in better form of late. His representative Rock The Kasbah wasn't beaten far when sixth last year and comes here after a break. He goes well fresh as he showed when winning at Chepstow in October and could be just the type to fit the 'bounce back' theme after pulling up in the Peter Marsh at Haydock in January.
Last year's race was a thriller with the first half-dozen covered by a couple of lengths, led home by rank outsider Henllan Harri from out of the handicap. Not seen since finishing last of six finishers to Daklondike at Newbury at the end of December, Henllan Harri has presumably been kept fresh for a repeat bid, though the chances are he'll again have to carry more than his allotted weight. Theatre Guide and Benbens were also involved in last year's tight finish, in third and fourth. Theatre Guide is now on a lower mark than twelve months ago, but he's another who arrives here after a fall last time out. But for a last-fence mistake Sugar Baron would have fared much better than seventh last year, though his jumping hasn't really improved enough to make him appealing here.
David Pipe is seeking a first win in a race his father won three times in all, and has a couple of each-way chances with Daklondike and Rathlin Rose. Daklondike progressed really well in a busy spell late last year to win three of his last four starts and has had a break since that Newbury win. Rathlin Rose has an excellent record in Sandown's military races and went close to completing the Royal Artillery/Grand Military Gold Cup double for the second year running earlier in the year. He's yet another who needs to pick himself up from a fall last time when he came down in the Topham at Aintree.
Others worth a mention include much the least-experienced runner Step Back who has had just five starts in his life, three of them over fences. He was undeniably impressive in a novice chase at Fakenham earlier this month but will find it harder to dominate a bigger field of seasoned handicappers. Henllan Harri's stablemate Minella Daddy is none too consistent but potentially well handicapped, while consistency isn't Regal Encore's strong suit either, though he beat Minella Daddy on his last start at Ascot, having since missed the Grand National when his blood was found to be wrong.
For the winner, though, we'll return to Blaklion's trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies who also has the well-treated Bigbadjohn at the other end of the handicap. He too had a mishap over the National fences last time when unseating at the Chair in the Topham but there's every reason to think extreme distances will suit last year's Reynoldstown Novices' Chase winner. Formerly with Rebecca Curtis, he'd been given a chance by the handicapper when winning at Kempton on his first start for his new stable. Bigbadjohn remains very much of interest off his current mark and can provide some compensation for his stable-companion Ballyoptic's narrow defeat in the Scottish National.
Missed Approach has solid claims after his win at Cheltenham and will be suited by the longer trip, but a number of these didn't get the chance to show what they could do last time, among them last year's close-up sixth Rock The Kasbah and early Grand National casualty Blaklion. However, it's the latter's stable-companion Bigbadjohn who makes the most appeal, still looking on a good mark at the other end of the handicap after winning his only completed start for Nigel Twiston-Davies.
Win back Bigbadjohn in Saturday's Gold Cup Handicap Chase at Sandown