Clash of titans set to unfold at Sandown
Sceaux can lead Mullins raid but title race set to go all the way
Published 23/04/2016 | 02:30
Willie Mullins needs a lot to click at Sandown if he is to overhaul Paul Nicholls and claim a famous British trainers' championship success.
Nicholls enjoys a nice cushion, but we've seen how quickly things can change when there are such lucrative pots on offer.
On today's potentially epic finale, chances are that Mullins will need to win at least one of the Celebration Chase or the Bet365 Gold Cup to chin Nicholls.
However, if Voix Du Reve and Valseur Lido were to win the card's first two races, that would add £60,000 to his kitty.
Things would look very different then ahead of the feature events. Whether or not it will be enough to overhaul the numerically strong Nicholls is impossible to call, but this corner expects Mullins to have a very good day.
In the opener, David Mullins will take three pounds off Voix Du Reve's back.
Nicholls relies on the Triumph Hurdle seventh Tommy Silver, and Voix Du Reve must concede three pounds after Mullins's claim is deducted.
He could well be capable of defying top-weight. Just denied on its Irish debut in a Fairyhouse Grade Three, the son of Voix Du Nord was coming there with a timely run in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham when he crashed out at the final flight.
It's anyone's guess what would have happened had he stood up, but he was beginning to look well handicapped.
Off an effective mark that is just two pounds higher here, then, Voix Du Nord can get the ball rolling for the Closutton team.
Valseur Lido is a shade of odds-on for the Grade Two Chase and is also fancied to justify that status under Gigginstown's retained rider Bryan Cooper.
At Cheltenham, he ran a blinder in the Ryanair Chase when second to the brilliant Vautour over a marginally shorter trip.
Every extra yard will help, but he should have too much class for his opponents, which include frustrating stablemate Ballycasey.
Un De Sceaux is worth taking a chance under Paul Townend on in the Celebration. The rejuvenated Sprinter Sacre clearly sets a tall standard, and, on the face of it, he beat Un De Sceaux fair and square in the Champion Chase.
Nonetheless, he is a 10-year-old, and the race was run to suit him at Prestbury Park, where Special Tiara spoiled Un De Sceaux's penchant for dictating.
Sprinter Sacre followed them around and pounced turning for home, and it is a mark of how good the trio are that not one horse came through to pick up the pieces off the ferocious pace.
Today, there is no Special Tiara. Maybe Nicholls will elect one of his three runners to upset Un De Sceaux, but I don't think he will go down the dirty tricks route. Besides, they probably wouldn't be able to get him at it.
If the ground stays good, it will suit Sprinter Sacre better than Un De Sceaux, but there is a chance that Sandown's quirks and emphasis on fencing will play to the raider's strengths. Odds of around 6/4 are not prohibitive.
Vroum Vroum Mag would also be expected to justify short odds in the Listed Hurdle, though Nicholls' Ptit Zig is a threat.
If it goes to the wire, the final handicap could go any way, but the most valuable prize might elude both of the day's main protagonists.
Bishops Road is an each-way option in the old Whitbread, but it is Carole's Destrier that gets the nod to plunder the £84,405 prize.
Neil Mulhollond's charge misfired at Cheltenham on its return from a break, but prior to that he was a game course and distance winner here in December.
Noel Fehily's mount likes a bit of decent ground, so he should be effective here again under a five-pound higher mark. He is a decent value option at up to 12/1.