Charlie McCann looks ahead to this afternoon’s Imperial Cup
Last year’s Gold Cup winner Sizing John (was 6/1 with BetVictor to successfully defend his crown) is the latest big-name to miss next week’s Cheltenham Festival with trainer Jessica Harrington reporting the eight-year-old has a hairline non-displaced fracture of his pelvis.
As a result of Sizing John’s defection Nicky Henderson’s Might Bite was cut from 3s to 11/4 favourite for the Blue Riband event of the Festival with BetVictor who bet 5/1 Native River and 6/1 (from 7s) Sizing John’s stablemate Our Duke.
It is Imperial Cup Day at Sandown and I was impressed with the recent Newbury success of Whatswrongwithyou (2.25) and hope his lack of experience does not count against him in what is always an ultra-competitive contest.
The selection (5/1 at BetVictor) was beaten over today’s C&D back in December but the winner (Ainchea) is himself a most progressive sort and Kalashnikov showed when winning the Betfair Hurdle that novices can be attractively treated in these big handicaps. It is perhaps significant that Henderson also saddles top-weight Call Me Lord and the selection would have carried 11st 11lbs rather than 10st 13lbs had Henderson not been doubly-represented.
The EBF Novice Handicap Hurdle Final is a real minefield with a long shortlist. Dashing Perk was a huge disappointment last time at Fakenham and is fitted with cheek-pieces for the first time this afternoon from a 2lbs lower mark. I can remember vividly how he tanked through the race over three miles on his penultimate start before his stamina gave way – today’s two-and-a-half mile trip is ideal – and 20/1 with BetVictor is a huge price if you are willing to forgive his last run.
The vote, however, goes to Dan Skelton’s Al Shahir (1.50) who was unfortunate to run into Maria’s Benefit, Kalashnikov and First Flow earlier in the season before making all in a Towcester Maiden Hurdle when last seen in December. His opening mark of 127 looks fair although he may have to improve for the additional half mile this afternoon. The selection is 13/2 at BetVictor and he is an each way recommendation.
The handicapper has given Aloomomo a chance and, if the first-time blinkers work the oracle, he must go close in the extended two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase, which closes the card. The nod, however, goes to Morning Reggie (4.45) who has won this corresponding race for the last two years and has had a wind operation since disappointing at Kempton back in January.
The ITV cameras are also at Dunstall Park Wolverhampton where I hope to see Tribal Warrior (3.50) follow up his recent Kempton win for James Tate and Luke Morris who continues to fire in the winners this winter.
Harry Topper (5.05) was no match for Band Of Blood at Exeter in a valuable Veterans’ event last time but the winner has since followed up and the handicapper has dropped Kim Bailey’s 11-year-old by 3lbs. The selection was trying to give Band Of Blood 21lbs at Exeter and he will be unlucky to bump into a rival as well-treated this afternoon.
At Hereford, Kauto Rico (4.35) has been raised 7lbs since winning a modest race at Taunton last time, but he is now two from two over fences and could be called the winner from some way out.
At Market Rasen on Sunday Master Of Finance (3.05) came in for market support on his chase debut at Ludlow but, not for the first time, looked to be in need of a step up in trip. This additional furlong and a half will suit and he has been dropped a further 3lbs. It will be interesting to see if the market speaks in his favour.
If Kelso gets the green light on Sunday Whiskey In The Jar (3.15) can improve past more experienced rivals in the Grade 2 Novices’ Hurdle and I think Nortonthorpelegend should have the race run to suit in the 3m Handicap Chase. Trainer Rebecca Menzies has her string in good form, the selection goes well for Brian Hughes and the selection is down to his last winning mark.
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