Timeform preview Saturday's Gold Cup at Sandown and recommend two bets...
"...the 2014 winner Hadrian’s Approach was fifth the year before, 2010 winner Church Island was fourth the year before, and dual winner Ad Hoc won the race in 2001, was fourth the year after, and then returned in 2003 to win the race again..."
First of all, it's probably key to look back at the 2016 renewal of this race; the 2014 winner Hadrian's Approach was fifth the year before, 2010 winner Church Island was fourth the year before, and dual winner Ad Hoc won the race in 2001, was fourth the year after, and then returned in 2003 to win the race again.
Three of the four horses that finished ahead of last year's fifth The Druids Nephew are all entered once again, and all prominent in the ante-post betting, however none of that trio are as well handicapped as The Druids Nephew.
After a fine third in the 2016 Ultima Handicap at Cheltenham, The Young Master won this race from an identical mark last year, however the doubt over his chance lies more with his heavy fall at the sixth in the Grand National at Aintree earlier this month. He was clearly trained with that race in mind and so this must go down as something of an afterthought - it's also worth noting that, whilst he has run well, he has failed to win his next start after the two times he has failed to complete over fences.
Just A Par, who won this race in 2015, was beaten a short-head into second 12 months ago from a mark of 148, but is 1 lb higher here. Paul Nicholls is throwing everything at the Trainers' Championship, however Just A Par appears to have nothing in hand on ratings and he didn't show enough in the Grand National last time to suggest that he will produce a career-best here. His stablemate (and last year's fourth) Southfield Theatre looks to have been targeted at this race and is afforded plenty of respect, however he was put up 7 lb by the handicapper for falling at the last, half a length up at the time, in the Badger Ales Trophy, and despite finishing eighth at Cheltenham since, is still 2 lb higher than when unable to win this a year ago.
In contrast, The Druids Nephew is now 10 lb lower than when beaten into an eight-length fifth and that could be too generous from the BHA handicapper. There is an argument to say that the horse could be regressing at the age of 10 - he has been at least 20 lb below his best on both starts in 2016/17 - however he was entitled to be rusty on his return from eight months off in the Silver Trophy at Ascot in December, and there was a hint of promise in his mid-field finish (one place ahead of Southfield Theatre) in the Ultima last month. Noel Fehily kept him wide throughout there, which didn't help, however he should have learned from his first ride on the horse, and it's easy to conjure up the memory of how well The Druids Nephew was going in front when falling five out in the 2015 Grand National. He's only a couple of lb off the top-rated (Doing Fine) and is worth backing at 8/1.
The aforementioned Doing Fine has been well-backed already this week and is the clear market leader with most firms. Also trained by Neil Mulholland, Doing Fine has improved in each of his four starts since leaving Rebecca Curtis, however this looks a much stronger race than his win at Cheltenham just 10 days ago and he will probably need to improve again to follow up.
The concept of following up is not one that Le Reve is familiar with, having never won back-to-back races in his 29-race career. However, the good news for his backers this week is that he never looked like winning when last seen, beating only one horse home over hurdles at Ascot earlier this month. That run was clearly just an outing to blow away the cobwebs, having been off since unseating his rider at the second at Cheltenham in November, and it's interesting that, having gone so well for a long way in the Grand National in 2016, that he wasn't entered in the race this year - this race looks to have been the plan for some time, as it was when he was third in it in 2015 from a mark of 147. He's 1 lb lower now and, whilst he has something to find on weight-adjusted ratings, this three-time course winner looks overpriced at 20/1.
Win Back The Druids Nephew to win the Sandown Gold Cup
Win Back Le Reve to win the Sandown Gold Cup