Seymour Biz laments the thin gruel served up on Saturday, but Tuesday’s first Cheltenham roar will no doubt raise his spirits! He’s picked a quartet of nags for the diehards amongst you who can’t resist a flutter on Saturday, anyway. They include a Paul Nicholls horse who he believes can repeat last season’s success in the Imperial Cup. Find all previous UK racing previews in his weekly column: Saturday Horse Racing Tips.
Pretty meagre fayre on offer this weekend prior to the jamboree that is Cheltenham. ITV are offering us four races from Sandown which includes the Imperial Cup and they have padded out the programme with two all-weather contests from Wolverhampton. Such a shame they could not send anyone to Ayr or Hereford to cover their pre-festival meetings and give these courses some air-time. But with what we have on offer at Sandown, the Imperial Cup remains the big talking point due to the £100,000 bonus to be claimed for winning this then going on to win a race at Cheltenham. Evan Williams has targeted this with Mack The Man but I am not sure his gelding is Festival material even if he wins this. The bonus has not been won since 2007 by Martin Pipe and his son David might have a chance with Main Fact, but I have reviewed the race more fully below. So I have put three races from Sandown in this week’s Lucky 15 and added to them a handicap from Wolverhampton to complete the selections.
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Beginning with the 1.20 at Sandown, the Paddy Power 3 Sleeps To Cheltenham Juvenile Handicap Hurdle over 2 miles. Nicky Henderson’s Homer is top weighted and highly fancied for this juvenile contest, it has taken a while for this gelding to get his act together and he had to be dropped into handicap company to get his first victory. I don’t think he will appreciate the heavy going and his jumping needs to show some improvement to take this. Another I feel will not relish the going is Nick Littmoden’s Imperil, who finally got his head in front at Fakenham last time on better ground than he faces here. The case is similar for Evan Williams’s Olympic Honour who won at Fakenham before Christmas even though he made several mistakes during the race. Galice Macalo has been running in Listed company and Jane Williams’s filly was unlucky on her penultimate run at Aintree when falling at the last after taking off with a narrow advantage. On her latest outing at Doncaster last month she was only four and a half lengths behind the winner in a classy contest after hanging left on the run-in. With a drop in class to handicap company she has the ability to take this.
The EBF Paddy Power National Hunt Novices Handicap Hurdle Final is at 1.55. At the head of the betting is Paul Nicholls’s McFabulous who was a triple winner last season in NHF races. He managed to win this year at the third time of asking in a novice hurdle but is stepping up in class here. Kiltealy Briggs has had a very good season to date running consistently, at Cheltenham in December he ran a good third with Mossy Fen and Igor behind him, I expect him to confirm those placings. In his latest run at Kelso he just about landed the odds on heavy going and would need to improve on that. Hurricane Harvey brings some good form here for trainer Fergal O’Brien with victories on his last two outings, in the latest at Wincanton he asserted himself well up the run-in. My liking here is for Phillip Hobbs’s Pileon, another who is on a hat-trick after victories at Catterick and Ffos Las. He has won those races by a total of 26 lengths, latterly on heavy going so the ground here at Sandown should not be a problem. Hobbs’s stable is firing well on the run in to Cheltenham and jockey Johnson is looking to ride as many winners as possible in his quest for the jockey’s title and Pileon can add to his tally.
The big race of the day is at 2.30, the Paddy Power Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle where several trainers will be hoping for a victory to take to Cheltenham to try for the £100k bonus. Evan Williams has nailed his colours to the mast in the form of Mack The Man, a course and distance winner, who he hopes can win the bonus. After he won here at Sandown he was unluckily brought down at Newbury next time and I wonder if that will affect his performance. The fourth horse in the Newbury race was Sir Valentine, beaten only a length after being hampered at the last, he had several of these behind him and should confirm those placings. Shakem Up’arry from Ben Pauling’s yard has been knocking on the door this year and can put in a good run but may have to settle for a place again. I picked the winner of this race last year and he is back for another crack at it. That horse is Paul Nicholls’s Malaya who came back to form with his fine second at Ascot last time and a reproduction of that form would see him go close. Another contender is David Pipe’s Main Fact who has won his last four, but this is a huge step up for Pipe’s gelding and I will side with Malaya to win the Cup for the second time.
At Wolverhampton the Bombardier Golden Beer Lincoln Trial Handicap is at 1.35 and Fox Power is the bookies fancy after running second to Via Serendipity. He will be 9lbs better off after that defeat and that shows in the betting. Arcanada and Another Touch were behind that day and those placings should be confirmed. Red Bond won easily at Newcastle last time and deserves his chance in this higher grade for trainer Keith Dalgleish.
Saturday Lucky 15
1.20 Sandown. Galice Macalo
1.55 Sandown. Pileon
2.30 Sandown. Malaya
1.35 Wolverhampton. Red Bond