It's a busy weekend ahead of The Festival™ presented by Magners but there is plenty to savour.
SIX FIGURE BONUS NOT JUST A PIPE DREAM
Everyone loves a bonus, so the £100,000 on offer from sponsors Matchbook if the winner of Sandown Park’s Imperial Cup goes on to score again next week at The Festival™, presented by Magners, will certainly appeal to some.
Of course winning two red-hot handicaps inside seven days is not easy. But it can be done, as David Pipe’s stable have shown with Olympian, Blowing Wind and, most recently, Gaspara.
Pipe has a likely enough candidate for the Imperial Cup race in Extra Mag, who remains something of an unknown quantity and has no weight, but even if he wins and picks up a penalty he is unlikely to make the cut in the Cheltenham handicaps, and he will be out of his depth in the novices.
Ante-post favourite Monsieur Lecoq will struggle to get into the Cheltenham handicaps too, but you can see why punters like him here, having won so well over the course and distance last time and with Lizzie Kelly’s brother Chester Williams taking over in order to reduce the weight with his bigger claim.
Last year’s runner-up Call Me Lord has earned his 8lb higher mark and will be all the better for last week’s racecourse gallop at Kempton Park but more interesting perhaps is Speredek, whose bonus target, possibly uniquely, would be over fences in Friday’s Grand Annual Chase.
Speredek was second to classy Verdana Blue last time he ran over hurdles, but he is 7lb lower here than over fences, on top of which the promising Tom Buckley takes off another 10lb.
Win or lose, he’ll give everyone a run for their money, as he loves to make the running.
HOT HEAT COULD BE ONE FOR ROSIE
Sandown Park has a strong supporting card and although a clash with the Scotland vs Wales game at Murrayfield is unavoidable, racing will be all but over by the time England kick-off against Italy just nine miles down the road at Twickenham.
The valuable Matchbook VIP Novices’ Handicap Hurdle is always a hot heat and those near the top of the weights would not be out of place at Cheltenham next week in the Ballymore or the Albert Bartlett.
One For Rosie was never entered there but he won well at Warwick last month and looks just the type for a race which is tailored for future chasing stars.
It’s wide open though, and in a maximum field of 18 they nearly all have the look of horses we should be hearing a lot more of.
FEARLESS COBDEN HAS SANDOWN CHANCES
Whether consciously or not, many of the top jockeys tend to be more circumspect in the week or two immediately preceding The Festival.
It’s noticeable then that Noel Fehily, for example, has just one ride over the weekend, on Whitehotchillifili in Sandown’s Listed Bumper.
Harry Cobden on the other hand is young and fearless enough not to give injury much thought, even though a relatively innocuous fall has the potential to rule him out of a mouth-watering book of rides at The Festival that includes 32Red King George VI Chase winner Clan Des Obeaux in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Among Cobden’s five rides at Sandown are Silver Forever for his boss Paul Nicholls in the bumper and The Kings Writ for Hayley Woollacott, trainer of Tuesday’s major Arkle fancy Lalor, in the last.
The Kings Writ, or ‘Brian’ as he is known at home, contrived to fall at the last with a Chepstow handicap chase at his mercy, but jumping is one of his main strengths and he’ll be hard to beat in the 2m 4f chase.
CAUTIOUS BARRY TAKES A CHANCE ON SUNDAY
Barry Geraghty has Buveur D’Air, Champ and Birchdale among a great book of Cheltenham rides, so no surprise perhaps that he has taken only two rides all week and is sitting it out on Saturday.
However, Geraghty is taking two mounts at Warwick on Sunday and, while inexperienced chasers usually top the list of rides to avoid, one of them is on Dalila Du Seuil in the mares’ novices’ chase. We can only assume she gave him plenty of confidence when she won a similar race at Exeter in December.
The feature race is a £26,000 3m 5f handicap chase, in which Jockey Club Racecourses ambassador Bryony Frost will be hoping that The Boss’s Dream can get her big week off to a perfect start.
KIRBY’S LATE LUNCH WORTH WAITING FOR?
It’s not all about the jumps, and there are some competitive handicaps on Kempton Park’s evening all-weather card, plus two strong races at Wolverhampton in the afternoon.
Andrea Atzeni had his first winner since returning from a busman’s holiday to California when scoring on French runner Amade at Chelmsford on Thursday. He partners Island Of Life for William Haggas in the Listed Wulfruna Stakes at Wolverhampton.
Adam Kirby is on Keystroke in that race and has one more ride before heading down the M40 to Kempton just to partner Lethal Lunch in one of the feature races.
Perhaps we should take the hint.