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It’s the finalé of the National Hunt season on Saturday and the battle for the trainers’ championship is a fascinating subtext to the action at Sandown. The incumbent Martin Pipe and pretender Paul Nicholls will be sending their massed battalions to Esher from the West Country. There is only £20,000 between the two, so the big races this Saturday will decide who claims the crown.

Nicholls may hold the nap hand. The feature race is the Betfred Gold Cup and it could be the ‘swing’ contest of the trainer war. Nicholls’s Inca Trail has the right profile to claim the race. He is a quietly progressive chaser that could improve on his form to date on ground on the fast side of good and in a big field. Favourite Kelami looks vulnerable as the form his win of the William Hill Trophy Chase at Cheltenham is yet to stack up.

Regular readers should be warned that a similar prediction was made about a similar horse to Inca Trail last week. Worse still the pair are related. Cornish Rebel is Inca Trail’s brother, and a quirky attitude combined with the flared nostril of Joe’s Edge in the Scottish Grand National beat him. Inca Trail has inherited all the familial idiosyncrasies but let’s hope that lightning won’t strike on Ruby Walsh and Paul Nicholls in big staying chases just seven days apart.

Azertyuiop can make it a big race double for Nicholls by landing the Betfred Celebration Chase. Pipe’s Well Chief will run him close and their form this season makes it difficult to split the two horses. Azertyuiop’s big deficit at Cheltenham can be excused by a bad mistake at the water jump. The key race may be the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury when Azertyuiop gave weight and a sound beating to his younger rival.

The betfred.com Mile is the best flat race on the card and Stream of Gold can prove what any watcher of the Lincoln Handicap three weeks ago already knows: this is a group class horse.


Sandown 2:35 Azertyuiop (win)

Sandown 3:15 Inca Trail (win)

Sandown 3:45 Stream of Gold (win)

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