Inside today’s main piece you can ready my thoughts on Saturday’s Imperial Cup. Plus, there's a selection from Kempton's tea time card.
This time next week we’ll be getting ready for Day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival.
According to the Racing Post Cheltenham Clerk of the Course Jon Pullin has stopped watering the track.
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It is good to soft, good in places at Cheltenham and the weather forecast is suggesting that there will be enough rain/snow between now and the start of the festival to maintain that going and it could even be a bit softer on the Old Course on Tuesday which has been watered on and off since October.
Good news indeed! However, we know what the British weather is anything but predictable.
Looking Ahead To The Weekend
Seven races on ITV4 on Saturday afternoon. It’s the traditional pre Cheltenham Saturday Sandown meeting with the Betfair Imperial Cup (2:25) the big betting race of the day.
All-weather fans also get a look in with three races from Wolverhampton on ITV. It’s the most valuable day’s racing of the year at Wolverhampton with the Listed Lady Wulfruna Stakes (2:40) and Lincoln Trial Handicap (2:05), both on ITV, the highlights of a eight race card.
It’s the Betfair Imperial Cup that comes under this week’s big race microscope.
Betfair Imperial Cup – Sandown
The Imperial Cup has a long history and it used to be one of the most prestigious hurdle races in the calendar.
For many years it was one of the coveted handicap hurdles of the season. Today less so. Its proximity to Cheltenham and the emphasis on the festival means that County Hurdle seems to take precedence with connections.
There were twenty-two runners 12 months ago when Irish challenger Surprise Package (20/1) caused a bit of surprise. A year earlier on the same ground there we’re just 9 runners.
It was good ground at Sandown on Tuesday lunchtime. However, there was steady rain and that on top of well-watered ground turned the ground soft by end of racing there on Tuesday.
Still thirty we’re left in the race at Monday’s final confirmation stage. Now normally you would be disappointed if there weren’t 16 runners weren’t running on the day. However, half of the runners have a County Hurdle or other entries at Cheltenham Festival so who knows.
The last six renewals of the Imperial Cup have been run on soft ground but even with some precipitation forecast I will be surprised if its soft on Saturday.
Looking some of the race trends which contain 14 winners from 256 runners 51 places. If you’re looking to shortlist you could probably do worse than look at horses with the following criteria.
My hunch is that winner will have the above traits. However. I will look at the runners without any preconceived notions of what the winner profile will be. If I strongly fancy one and it fails one of trends, I will be happy to back it. Trends and stats are meant illuminate rather than be a crutch.
Here are few of the leading contenders.
Last year’s winning trainer Peter Fahey is set to bring over Zoffany Bay. He will not be anywhere near 20/1 like last year’s winner. Indeed, he’s vying for favouritism in the ante post betting.
The 9-year-old returned from a 700-day absence to finish a 1 ¾ length 2nd of 12 at Ascot 3 weeks ago. He showed that day that he retain plenty of ability.
Peter Fahey is a good target trainer but you would have to be concerned about the dreaded ‘bounce’. Paul Nicholls saddled the 2019 winner, and he has three entries in Iceo, Samarrive and Holetown Hero. All three are to the fore in the ante post betting.
Iceo returned from a 10 month absence when 3 length 2nd of 10 to Hardy Du Seuil over C&D in January. He’s unexposed in handicap company and was only beaten by a race fit rival last time.
Samarrive was only ninth in last year’s race but then went onto wina C&D handicap hurdle in April. He finished ¾ length behind Zoffany Bay at Ascot last time and has to be respected on that performance.
Hardy Du Seuil was strong at the finish when winning over C&D (soft) last time. Granted he’s up 4lb but if the rain arrives to ease the ground I can see him going close.
More juice in the ground will suit Monviel
Monviel was doing his best work at the finish when a 13 ½ length 5th of 16 in the Betfair Hurdle. Any ease in the ground would suit. He’s only had six starts over hurdles, and I think he’s capable of better. A winner over C&D last season. Will he come here though or wait for a race at Cheltenham?
Man O Work is another Irish challenger with claims if he comes over. A faller early in a handicap won by Gaelic Warrior at Leopardstown last month. Prior to that the 5-year-old had run well in two starts in valuable handicap hurdles in Ireland and isn’t discounted.
A couple of outsiders…
Highway One O Two was a shade disappointing when 7th of 16 in the Betfair Hurdle and is vulnerable to less exposed rivals but he’s better horse going right-handed.
Metier is classy at his best and won the Grade 1 2021 Tolworth Hurdle over C&D on heavy ground. He also took advantage of a good flat mark when winning the November Handicap (heavy). He does need the ground to ease significantly to trouble the principals though.
Tomorrow I will be going through another two races at the Cheltenham Festival. The focus will be on the Thursday card.
Today’s action is supposed to be taking place over jumps at Catterick and Fontwell and on the all-weather at Lingfield and Kempton. However, snow is being forecast and all four tracks face morning precautionary inspections. The best hope for racing could lie with Fontwell but the forecast doesn’t look great.
I was hoping that Jeremy Scott would withdraw yesterday’s selection The Plimsoll Line from his intended Sandown assignment. The rain that fell on watered ground turned the ground soft and testing which was never going to suit him and he was pulled up before the last. The race was won by the other horse I liked Howlingmadmurdock who goes very well on rain softened ground.
5:35 – Dark Side Thunder completed the hat trick when winning over C&D in September. Returned from a four month absence and likely needed the run when only a 3 length 7th of 10 at Newcastle 13-days ago. Back down to 1lb below his last winning mark and set for a good run.