Country can take pride after a fall

RACING: Chasers make their final bow of the season as the younger generation chases Classic dreams on Sandown's variety day
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The Independent Online
There are several candidates for the title of "best card of the year", but if variety is the tie-breaker, there can be only one winner. The Whitbread Gold Cup card at Sandown this afternoon allows Cheltenham Festival winners to share the stabling block with Derby contenders, and with more than £250,000 in added prize-money, the competition will be fierce.

First come the two-year-olds, fizzing through five furlongs up the centre of the track. Then the best steeplechasers take their last worthwhile bow - with the Silver Trophy Chase, transferred from Cheltenham, an added attraction this year - before being shoved aside by the Classic trialists and the Group-class older horses. Something for everyone - and as Whitbread day veterans will know, absolutely everyone seems to be there. If queues and crowds are not your thing, take the sofa option instead.

The Whitbread, perhaps, is just a little short of the quality we have come to expect, and making up for unfortunate mishaps rather than building on good recent form seems to be the mission for several leading fancies. Country Member, well-backed for the Grand National, did not even reach the second fence. Mr Boston unseated his rider when favourite for the Irish Grand National a couple of weeks ago, while Deep Bramble, an on- course gamble for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, was never going in the race and pulled up a long way from home.

Paul Nicholls, Deep Bramble's trainer, believes that he has solved the muscle problem which ailed his runner that day, but, with top weight on fast ground which is not expected to suit him, Deep Bramble is hard to fancy, even at double-figure odds. True, he does seem to run his best races at Sandown, but so does Country Member (3.25), a solid choice on going which will suit him ideally. He can emulate Docklands Express, the winner of the Whitbread in 1991 after falling at the first in the National.

Oliver Sherwood and Jamie Osborne must have been wearing broad grins after seeing the entries for the Silver Trophy Chase. Coulton, once a front-runner, has improved significantly for switching to challenging late off a fast pace, but with just four opponents, a good gallop might not normally be guaranteed. Coulton's rivals, though, include both the confirmed front-runner Young Hustler and Southolt, who improved significantly when allowed to lead in the Melling Chase last time. A similar performance today might even allow Southolt (2.45) to repel the challenge of Coulton.

If the Classic Trial is ever in need of a new sponsor, John Gosden might be worth an approach. Gosden has taken the last three runnings, and that fact alone must give Torrential every chance today, but it is hard to overlook the arrival of Tremplin (4.00), from Andr Fabre's yard at Chantilly. He showed an excellent turn of foot to win a maiden at Longchamp on 2 April after getting a poor run, and is held in sufficient regard to merit an entry in the Derby.

British horses heading in the opposite direction include Alderbrook, the champion hurdler, Right Win and Pelder, who will contest the Prix Ganay at Longchamp tomorrow, the first Group One event of the season. An outstanding field also includes Hernando, runner-up in last year's Arc, Millkom and Richard Of York.

Another raiding party goes to Italy, where Moon King, well adrift of Celtic Swing in the Greenham Stakes, is the best of four British challengers for the Premio Parioli (Italian 2,000 Guineas) in Rome.