Nicholls v Mullins: How Sandown’s card could decide the title

Railway Fence Sandown racecourse

Sandown: an epic title race will be decided here on Saturday

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)  

WITH a massive sum of the prize-money up for grabs in the jump season’s final fling at Sandown on Saturday, the race for the trainers’ championship is set to go down to the very last day of the campaign.

Reigning British champion trainer Paul Nicholls holds a narrow advantage of slightly over £40,000 from Willie Mullins. Both are set to throw everything at Sandown’s valuable card in the hope of sealing the title.

Most bookies have Nicholls the slight favourite, with 10-11 (BetVictor) the best price available about him. Mullins can be backed at 5-4 with StanJames. With the entries for Sandown now available, here is how the title might be decided.

2.25 bet365 Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Class 2)
Total prize fund £50,000
Winner’s prize £31,280

Voix Du Reve’s last-flight fall in the Fred Winter when coming to challenge could prove one of the turning points of the battle, as it left Nicholls with a one-two for which he claimed just shy of £60,000.

That horse is Mullins’ sole entrant in this valuable juvenile handicap. Nicholls has three: Tommy Silver, Frodon and Sunday’s Wincanton winner Zubayr.

3.00 bet365 Oaksey Chase (Grade 2)
Total prize fund £50,000
Winner’s prize £28,475

Mullins has a stronger hand in this race, though it is not the most valuable on the card and most of his five entrants – Sir Des Champs, Valseur Lido, Vautour, Ballycasey and Vroum Vroum Mag – have other engagements.

Vautour (Ruby Walsh)

Vautour: could he spearhead the Mullins challenge on Saturday?

  PICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos  

Nicholls also has five entrants, led by former Champion Chase winner Dodging Bullets. He also has Saphir Du Rheu, Wonderful Charm, Rocky Creek and Art Mauresque.

Philip Hobbs, whose quietly brilliant season has played out in the background of this battle, could yet have his say here with two-time winner Menorah.

3.35 bet365 Celebration Chase (Grade 1)
Total prize fund £125,000
Winner’s prize £71,187

The second most valuable prize on the card was reoponed until Tuesday morning after just nine entries were received.

4.10 bet365 Gold Cup (Grade 3)
Total prize fund £150,000
Winner’s prize £84, 405

Staying chasers are so often Nicholls’ trump card and in the most valuable race of the day he has arguably his strongest hand. Southfield Theatre is the ante-post favourite, while he also has last year’s winner Just A Par. Pacha Du Polder, Wonderful Charm and Rocky Creek complete his quintet.

Just A Par

Just A Par: a repeat win for last year’s champion could decide the title

  PICTURE: Getty Images  

Mullins’ claims here are not so obvious. Sir Des Champs was an early casualty in the Grand National, Measureofmydreams exited in the Scottish equivalent and Pleasant Company pulled up in the four-miler at Cheltenham.

4.45 bet365 Select Hurdle (Listed)
Total prize fund £50,000
Winner’s prize £28,475

The theoretical edge here belongs to Mullins, who has Shaneshill and Vroum Vroum Mag among his quartet. Nicholls has as many entries, with Ptit Zig or Silsol perhaps his strongest. It is a little surprising not to see Saphir Du Rheu given the option of returning to hurdles.

5.20 bet365 Josh Gifford Novices’ Handicap Chase (Class 2)
Total prize fund £30,000
Winner’s prize £18,768

Kylemore Lough, who won a Grade 1 novice in Ireland last time, is the big name in this race for Kerry Lee. Rolly Baby could make the opposite journey to be Mullins’ sole runner.

Three of Nicholls’ entrants – Some Buckle, As De Mee and Calipto – have fallen a little short of lofty expectations so far this season. The other, Dormello Mo, runs at Newton Abbot on Monday.

5.55 bet365 Handicap Hurdle (Class 2)
Total prize fund £30,000
Winner’s prize £18,768

It could all come down to this race and neither man seems to be taking any risks. Mullins has eight entrants, Nicholls seven. Expect many to be declared as the two champions try to wring every drop from this final £30,000 available for the 2015-16 season.

 

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