It is a race, too, which could have a significant impact on the weights for the Grand National, which will be revealed on Monday. Christopher Mordaunt, the senior jumps handicapper, will consider both this afternoon's form and that at Leopardstown tomorrow before finalising his opinion.
Anyone who has already stepped into the ante-post market for Earth Summit or Deep Bramble may therefore be praying that their selection will be beaten today (though if you are daft enough to bet on a handicap before the weights have been framed, you deserve everything you get).
In the case of Earth Summit, there should also be careful scrutiny of his reaction if and when he comes under pressure. When he won the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock two weeks ago, the performance of Tom Jenks, his jockey, persuaded many observers that a bright future in the tanning industry will await him when his days in the saddle come to an end. Earth Summit's quarters were later found to be badly marked, with Nigel Twiston-Davies, his trainer, reporting the gelding to be unusually thin-skinned. The same description would probably apply to the viewers who jammed Haydock's switchboard with their complaints, but the stewards had little option but to ban Jenks (for nine days) for his efforts, hence the appearance of Jamie Osborne in Earth Summit's saddle this afternoon.
Earth Summit is a tremendously sturdy animal, but his hard race a fortnight ago, in desperate ground, may take a toll this afternoon. The problem for punters is that there are serious questions against several of his rivals, including Deep Bramble (mightwant further), Just So (definitely wants further), Royal Athlete (old and too much weight) and Riverside Boy (old and unreliable).
The one who may be worth an each-way interest is Country Member, the winner of this race two years ago when he beat Rushing Wild, who went on to finish second in the Gold Cup. Fate has not been kind to Country Member since and an injury forced him to sitout the whole of last season, but there was enough promise in his fourth place behind Raymylette last time to give him a good outside chance today.
An excellent undercard at Sandown features a Grade One novice chase - in which High Baron and Banjo, Martin Pipe's latest recruit from France, face six useful rivals - and the Agfa Hurdle. Mole Board is another winner of two years ago in search of a repeat, but while he will not start at 33-1, as he did in 1993, Absalom's Lady is a better investment.
The place to be tomorrow is Leopardstown, where Jodami will attempt to become the first horse to win the Hennessy Irish Gold Cup three times. To do so, he must correct the sloppiness which has crept into his jumping this season, resulting in him parting company with Mark Dwyer on both his outings.
Not that his principal rivals in the betting have much reason to sneer. Merry Gale suffered the indignity of a return to hurdles last time out, following falls in two of his three previous outings over fences, while Chatam's dodgy technique over obstacles is legendary.
A six-runner steeplechase in which the first three in the betting cannot be trusted to complete the course is clearly open to a surprise result. Commercial Artist, winner of the Ericsson Chase on heavy ground last time and third to One Man in the Britishversion of the Hennessy, is the best bet of the weekend at around 12-1.Reuse content