Saturday's bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown (due off 3.10pm) brings the curtain down on what has been a memorable jumps season.
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There is a huge difference of opinion over Galaxy Rock, who was ante post favourite for this until his trainer Jonjo O'Neill decided to let him take his chance in last weekend's Scottish National. Having travelled strongly for most of the way, his stamina ran out in the last half mile and he was wisely pulled up by Tony McCoy. The drop back in trip will help his cause and Ladbrokes still fancy him to run a big race as he's their 6/1 favourite at the time of writing, yet he can backed at 11/1 with Skybet and 9/1 generally. The latter price looks a closer reflection of his chances although, as a top of the ground performer, he could have done without all the recent rain. It's the wet stuff that has prompted a deluge of money for Le Beau Bai, who is now favourite across the board. The Welsh National winner is a dour stayer who loves it when the mud is flying so will be in his element, but he's had plenty of hard races already this season and is 9lb higher than his last winning mark. Besides, favourites have a dire record with none obliging since Mr Frisk in 1990.
What of those horses that ran in the Grand National?
The Aintree marathon has provided 10 winners since 1973 with seven getting no further than Becher's Brook on the second circuit, so it's therefore essential to have escaped a hard race. That bodes well for West End Rocker, Rare Bob and Viking Blond, all of whom were out of the race before Becher's was taken for the first time. On the downside, of the last 73 Aintree contenders to have run in this race, only one has made the frame. Swing Bill is the only one of the runners to have completed the course at Aintree, finishing tenth.
Is a big weight a bar to success?
Desert Orchid carried 11st 11lb to victory in 1988 but he was an exceptional horse and since then only Life Of A Lord, Puntal and Lacdoudal have defied the 11st barrier, with the last five winners all carrying between 10st and 10st 13lb. With the ground looking certain to be testing, weight could be even more of an issue this year and that's a big negative for the likes of Tidal Bay, who will carry top weight of 11st 12lb, Deep Purple, West End Rocker, Rare Bob, Galaxy Rock and Tullamore Dew.
Any other significant trends?
Surprisingly no, given that this is a well-established race in the calendar. When it comes to age and experience, there has been a good mix of winners with four horses aged nine or above, including the 11-year-olds Monkerhostin and Church Island, and six younger horses obliging in the last 10 years. Of these, seven were either novices or second-season chasers, with the other three all classed as veterans, which perhaps gives the edge to the less experienced types. All the winners had run within the last 46 days days, so it's no easy task trying to win after a break. Both Dovers Hill and Aldertune just fall down on that stat having been off the track for 49 days.
What's the verdict?
This is as tricky a 'Whitbread' as I can remember but there must be a winner and MAJOR MALARKEY looks to have plenty going for him. Fifth in last year's race when still a novice, he's had a lighter campaign this time round and ran his best race last time out when finishing second in the Uttoxeter Grand National over 4m1f, beaten just three quarters of a length by the well-handicapped Master Overseer. That looks cracking form now as the fourth, fifth and eighth have won since since, and this half mile shorter trip is in his favour as he looked like the winner at Uttoxeter before being headed close home. Furthermore, his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies has been banging in the winners of late with a double at Ffos Las and a treble at Perth this week. It's tempting to take the current 9/1 on offer with Ladbrokes but in such an open renewal it might be worth holding out for 10/1 or better on the morning of the race.
Of the rest, the useful novice Roalco de Farges might give the selection most to do. He too ran in the Midlands National, finishing fifth after seeming not to stay, and was very impressive when winning over 3m at Chepstow last time out. His trainer Philip Hobbs won this race with another seven-year-old in Lacdoudal, and was also responsible for the 2008 winner Monkerhostin. Old Tidal Bay hasn't won since January 2010 and that was over hurdles, but he retains plenty of ability when in the mood and could stay on past beaten horses to grab a place.
Best bookmaker offer?
Back the winner at 4/1 or bigger with bet365 and they will give you a free bet to the same stake on the next live Channel 4 race; the Betfred "The Bonus King" Handicap at Ripon (due off 3.30pm).
Where to watch live?
If you can't catch the race on Channel 4, you can always watch it via your PC with bet365, providing you have placed a bet (minimum £0.50) with them of course. Simply click on the live stream link next to the race, sit back and enjoy.