First run in 1957 when sponsored by Whitbread Brewers, Sandown’s three mile five and a half furlong handicap chase has a long and varied history. After Much Obliged’s inauguaral victory for trainer Neville Crump the second renewal was won by Taxidermist, ridden by Mr John Lawrence ( later Lord Oaksey ) and trained by Fulke Walwyn whose record of seven wins in the race is unlikely ever to be broken. The incomparable Arkle and arch rival Mill House both won the race during the 1960’s while the victory of the Queen Mother’s Special Cargo in 1984 is regarded as one of the most exciting races in the history of the sport. Four year’s later the popular Desert Orchid defied top weight of 11st 11lb and while the overall class associated with the race has deteriorated over the last twenty years or so it invariably produces a fitting end to the National Hunt season.
The 2015 renewal will go down as the day AP McCoy, the greatest of all National Hunt jockeys and 20-time champion, finally hung up his riding boots in front of a sell-out crowd, the majority there to pay their respects to an icon of the sport. With the jockey’s owner/retainer JP McManus failing to have a runner in the staying chase McCoy is sure to have a choice of available mounts although a decision is unlikely to be made until the final declaration stage. The Willie Mullins-trained On His Own and disappointing Crabbie’s Grand National second favourite Rocky Creek currently head the weights but with both considered doubtful starters it could be left to 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth to head the handicap together with the Paul Nicholls’ pair of Unioniste and Wonderful Charm. 40 Horses stood their ground at the five-day declaration stage but with a maximum permitted field of 20 several of those currently out of the handicap are in danger of missing the cut.
LE REVE – Has a good record at Sandown with two wins and a second from three starts over fences. 8lb Higher than when running out an easy five length winner from Theatrical Star over the course back in January and improved upon that run to finish second in Kempton’s Betbright Chase two months later. Trainer Lucy Wadham has avoided both Cheltenham and Aintree to target this race and must have a leading chance. 9-1 Boylesports and William Hill.
THE PACKAGE – Strongly fancied for the Crabbie’s Grand National but just failed to make the cut. Lightly-raced this season and came good with a twelve length victory in Kim Muir at Cheltenham Festival but has been put up 10lb by handicapper, although did finish fourth in 2012 Hennessy Gold Cup off same mark. Major chance if able to reproduce Cheltenham run but yet to prove himself over this kind of trip. 10-1 Generally.
PAINT THE CLOUDS – Multiple winning hunter chaser who could have been let in leniently. Sent off the 11-4 favourite for the Foxhunters at the Cheltenham Festival and not disgraced in finishing third, although no match for easy winner On The Fringe who followed up at Aintree. Ground and distance should be ideal and a big run anticipated. 10-1 Generally.
BOBS WORTH – Winner of Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2013 but only fourth 12 months later and after two disappointing efforts this season has been dropped to a mark of 159, 21lb less than his peak 2013 figure. Plenty to prove on recent form but dangerous to discount if producing anything like his best. 12-1 Generally.
GRAND JESTURE – Two wins over fences from seven starts for Henry de Bromhead and plenty of creditable efforts including when runner up to The Druids Nephew at Cheltenham Festival. Open to more improvement as only seven and gives impression trip within capabilities. Respected Irish challenger. 12-1 Generally.
UNIONISTE – 11lb Higher than when winning over course in January on soft ground and faced impossible task when trying to give 5lb to Coneygree in Denman Chase before falling early on in Grand National. Possibly best with plenty of cut in the ground and may end up having to concede weight to most of field. 16-1 Generally.
DUKE OF LUCCA – Disappointing season until hitting form on Grand National day at Aintree when getting the best of a tight finish. Only 2lb higher and not badly handicapped but far from consistent although trip not a problem. 16-1 Generally.
ROCKY CREEK – Must be considered a doubtful runner after disappointing in the Grand National and would have to run off a 9lb higher mark if taking his chance but a return to Betbright Chase form would put him in the mix despite welter burdon. 20-1 Stan James and Betway.
JUST A PAR – Plenty of chances for top stable and only one win from eleven chase starts, that coming in Newbury novice chase in November 2013. Handicapper probably needs to relent a little more and unlikely to get off the mark for the season in such a competitive contest. 20-1 Generally.
WONDERFUL CHARM – Closely matched with Duke Of Lucca on Aintree form but goes into the unknown trip-wise. Been highly tried this season and may well appreciate dropping in grade and can see this seven-year-old going well if stamina hold up. 20-1 Betway.
ROALCO DE FARGES – Runner up to Tidal Bay in 2012 and seventh 12 months ago, both off lower marks and overall form this season does not look good enough. 20-1 Generally.
ROYALE KNIGHT – Has improved dramatically since joining current stable culminating in creditable sixth place in Crabbie’s Grand National two weeks ago and with ground and trip likely to prove ideal should run really well if allowed to take his chance. 33-1 Sportingbet.
GUESS AGAIN – Possible challenger from shrewd Irish stable of Tony Martin and looked to be travelling well when falling at the 15th in Kim Muir last time and 10lb better off with The Package. One of the more interesting outsiders. 25-1 Betvictor and Ladbrokes.
LOST LEGEND – Likely to represent the stable of Jonjo O’Neill and therefor a possible mount of champion Tony McCoy. Fair sixth behind The Druids Nephew and Grand Jesture at Cheltenham but step up in trip needs to bring some improvement if going to play a leading role. 25-1 Ladbrokes and Betvictor.