The National Hunt season reaches its logical climax in the Betfred Gold Cup at Sandown today. Unfortunately, the British racing calendar is barely on nodding terms with logic. If the jockeys' or trainers' championship happened to go to the wire, it would be rather awkward if everyone had to wait for the last four races at Market Rasen. Fortunately Tony McCoy and Paul Nicholls - one a perennial champion, the other long overdue - can go away and refresh themselves with a nice relaxing holiday before the new season starts at Ludlow and Wetherby tomorrow.
The most fitting epilogue at Sandown would be another big win for the Irish and JACK HIGH (nap 3.20) has every chance of repeating his success in this race last year. Though 8lb higher this time, he remains largely unexposed at extreme distances, his two other starts over this kind of trip having yielded a close second to Numbersixvalverde in the Irish National last year and a fall at halfway behind the same horse at Aintree last month.
His trainer is entitled to wonder what might have been, but the silver lining today is that he was at least spared a hard race. A spring horse, he is demonstrably happy with the singular demands of this race - going right-handed, and finding a rhythm on fast ground over those staccato fences in the back straight - and he must go well. The danger is Innox, who loves this track and is a different horse under McCoy, but he has never run on such quick ground.
The Flat horses formally take over the baton on this card. The Betfred Mile looks like a now-or-never opportunity in the frustrating career of Rob Roy (3.55). He has granted only fleeting glimpses on the track of the undoubted calibre he shows on the gallops, but he is no mere "morning glory", having won a solid Group race last autumn before failing to stay in the Champion Stakes. Jarred up in the 2,000 Guineas last year, he remains very lightly raced and this looks an ideal foundation for a fresh start.
Barry Hills has made a fine start to the campaign and The Last Drop (4.25) can underpin the Epsom ambitions he already nourishes for Olympian Odyssey by winning the Betfred Classic Trial. This Galileo colt was going strongest at the end of his maiden at Windsor and this stiffer track should yield improvement.
Unfortunately Channel 4 will not be showing that race, but its cameras are at Ripon where Greenwich Meantime is a fascinating runner in the Totesport Handicap. He is being aimed at the Chester Cup, but he is not really a dour stayer and it could well prove that further improvement may be found over a mile and a half, over which trip he made a perfect start for his new trainer at Thirsk last week.
In contrast Numero Due (3.40) confirmed that he needs a real test when finding his feet late round the sharp track at Catterick on his reappearance.
Nap: Jack High (Sandown 3.20)