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1.15 - Paddy's Giving Away 1 Million Today Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (2m)
Gary Moore should hold strong claims of bagging the Sandown opener with last-time-out C&D winner HUDSON DE GRUGY. The French import was a good second over track and trip on debut at the Tingle Creek Meeting in December and delivered on that promise a month later when justifying odds-on favouritism to beat four rivals in ready fashion.
He still looked to be very much learning his trade there and it's likely there's more to come from him. He had a pair of next-time-out winners behind when scoring here in January and, assuming he handles this quicker ground (both previous runs on heavy), he's very much the one to beat.
Fergal O'Brien's Elham Valley beat the selection here in that debut run, so he should have an idea what he's facing, while recent Exeter Mares' Novices winner Volkovka is rated a threat, even if she will have to improve on that bare form seemingly.
The other filly in the field is Marta Des Mottes, who has tackled Listed/Grade 2 contests in two runs for Tom Symonds thus far since arriving from France. She tailed off behind Triumph Hurdle favourite Tritonic at Kempton a fortnight ago, but boasts winning hurdles form in her native land and will find this more realistic.
The Worthy Brat has work to do with Hudson De Grugy based on their December meeting here, while Global Agreement hasn't shown enough in three starts over timber previously to warrant consideration. State Crown has shown an aptitude for this test however and the son of New Approach could have something to say back on decent ground.
1.50 - European Breeders' Fund Paddy Power 'National Hunt' Novices' Handicap Hurdle Final (Grade 3, 2m4f)
If you thought the Imperial Cup itself was going to be tough to assess, try this for an appetiser. It's around 7/1 the field at the time of writing and this Grade 3 novices' contest is a pure puzzle, though punters can at least rely on value in their selections.
Top-weight Marthinal had Karl Philippe and Gladiateur Allen behind at Exeter in January and that form was boosted when the second and third won their next starts in decisive fashion. Marthinal also accounted for another pair of similarly penalised previous winners himself last month and should be a threat going back up in trip from his new mark.
GLADIATEUR ALLEN could turn around that Exeter defeat. He's a couple of pounds worse off now but, having won nicely at Ascot next time (2m5½f, soft), he took on some seasoned campaigners back there three weeks ago. He couldn't justify favouritism, but the experience will surely stand to him and it might count for plenty now he's back taking on novices. He should be there or thereabouts under Chester Williams.
Striking A Pose may have more to offer and represents a Colin Tizzard team now finding its feet nicely, while Sometimes Always, Sheldon and The Mick Preston all need shortlisting too. The latter of that quartet is progressing with each run for Nigel Twiston-Davies and he beat some solid rivals on handicap bow at Hereford in January, ensuring he's very likely to have a say from 6lb higher.
2.25 - Paddy Power Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m)
The Imperial Cup has attracted a strong line-up of 15 contenders and is, as it routinely has been, a fiercely competitive contest.
The front of the market sees Gary Moore's Natural History just about shading Langer Dan for the Skelton team of trainer Dan and jockey Harry. The former was a very easy winner at Plumpton on handicap bow at the start of this month and, despite a meaty enough rise in the ratings, commands lots of respect here. Langer Dan meanwhile was an eyecatcher at Market Rasen last month when fourth on his first start post wind surgery and makes appeal as one potentially well treated.
The duo deserve to hold claims, though there are a host of dangers and so there may be more value to be had elsewhere in the market.
Malaya is a former winner for Paul Nicholls and rated 2lb lower than when achieving that success two years ago, while stablemate Miranda won a Doncaster Grade 2 last time and has a talented claimer taking a handy 7lb off here.
Mack The Man should be better than he showed in the Betfair Hurdle and could outrun his odds, while Highway One O Two and recent course and distance winner Eamon An Cnoic cannot be dismissed at their best.
David Pipe and Nigel Twiston-Davies have plenty of history with this race, however, and both trainers have good chances now. ONE TRUE KING just about gets the nod as he's almost twice the price of Pipe's Leoncavallo here.
This useful bumper horse put up some excellent early season efforts over hurdles, scoring at Uttoxeter and then twice finishing second in hot handicaps at Cheltenham before routing his rivals at Leicester in December.
He was favourite for the Lanzarote at Kempton in January but didn't stay the 2m5f that day. His Ascot run last month was better but, again, 2m3½f and that stiff finish weren't ultimately too much for him. He's coming back in trip and could bounce right back to form now. He handles good/soft ground equally well and his Naunton handler is bidding to win the Imperial Cup for a third time in five runnings.
David Pipe seeks to win this for the first time since Baltimore Rock in 2014, while his Gaspara (2007) is his most recent horse to complete an Imperial Cup/Cheltenham Festival double. Martin Pipe also saddled Olympian (1993) and Blowing Wind (1998) to victory this before scoring days later in the Cotswolds, so the Imperial Cup is a special race for everyone at Pond House.
Leoncavallo joined this firm from Dr Richard Newland last year and has impressed on the Flat/over fences so far. He won at Stratford in July in a novices' chase on second run back, before swatting aside his rivals with contempt over 1m6f at Haydock on the level in August. An honourable sixth in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket in October was again very commendable.
He goes well fresh, so the absence since is not a worry, and he's on a very fair mark relative to hurdles form for his previous trainer. Given the yard's association with this race, he should be primed for a big run.
3.00 - British Stallion Studs EBF Mares' Standard Open NH Flat Race (Listed, 2m)
Continuing the theme of tough puzzles here with a Mares' bumper featuring 14 previous winners.
It's not hard to make cases for plenty and both Rainyday Woman and Miss Lamb fully merit their spots at the front end of the market. The Paul Nicholls runner won a Listed contest at Huntingdon last time and did so within herself. She should have more to give, despite conceding upwards of 4lb to this deep field.
Miss Lamb meanwhile got close to the hugely impressive Eileendover at Market Rasen in January when failing to make it 3-3. The third home, Grangee, won a Grade 2 mares' bumper at the Dublin Racing Festival next time, while the fourth Dragon Bones was a Listed hurdles winner at Doncaster this month. Jedd O'Keefe's mare needs maximum respect in this quality event.
An extensive shortlist would also include the likes of Flirtatious Girl, Tweed Skirt and Ballybough Mary as likely sorts but perhaps UCANAVER is the value.
Anthony Honeyball and Rex Dingle won this last year with Coquelicot, behind whom Ucanaver was second on debut at Huntingdon a month earlier. She looked most promising on her seasonal comeback at Fontwell, spread-eagling the field, and surely wasn't herself next time at Cheltenham in November having gone off a favourite in this grade. Having since undergone a wind operation, she could bounce back in style and is a rewarding price if she does.
3.35 - Paddy's Rewards Club Novices' Handicap Chase (Listed, 2m4f)
The manner in which Annsam brushed aside his rivals in a beginners' chase at Ludlow (2m4f, soft) was impressive. That was his third start over fences and he made all the running, jumping effectively and never really looking like he'd relinquish his advantage. He has sure-fire prospects of better but is far from certain to get his lead here.
No Getaway, High Up In The Air, Farinet and Lust For Glory have all been adopting those front-running tactics of late and it could turn into a real scrap for the honour. That said, if Tom O'Brien and Annsam can manage to win the early battle and lead, they are much feared.
ADMIRAL BARRATRY's recent form stands up to scrutiny and given how well handicapped his rival was, he ran a hugely commendable race behind Fire Away at Fakenham last month (winner won easily again since from 13lb higher). Up 4lb himself, Bryony Frost's mount is a key player and worth siding with in a tough race.
If this does get run at a frantic pace, Belargus might be one to pick up some of the pieces. He won over shorter around here three weeks ago and would benefit upped in trip from that sort of frenetic pace ahead of him.
4.10 - 'From The Horse's Mouth' Podcast Handicap Chase (3m)
Eclair De Guye had MISTER MURCHAN behind earlier in the season at Huntingdon but the latter continues to improve and is fancied to score for the second time in three starts this year. He won on heavy ground at Wincanton over 2m4f in January and ran a respectable third over the same trip here last month in a contest dominated by No Getaway from the front (leading contender earlier on this card).
Niall Houlihan's mount has been dropped in the ratings for that run and going back up in trip should prove no bad thing for him.
Eclair De Guye, meanwhile, was second over C&D last month in his only outing since that victory at Huntingdon in December and retains some appeal, despite inching up the ratings again.
Versatility is a big player for Nicky Henderson on the back of a wind operation, though his ability to travel in the race is open to debate. Lamanver Pippin has been out of form this term but is coming down the weights now and, with Colin Tizzard's team improving lately, he might do better.
4.45 - Paddy Power '3 Sleeps To Cheltenham' Handicap Chase (2m4f)
Having started a 300-1 chance in November's chasing bow at Warwick in a novice contest won by leading Arkle contender Allmankind, it was an altogether different assignment for FIVE STAR GETAWAY at Wincanton (2m4f, good) last weekend as he went off 2-1fav in a Class 5 handicap. He obliged and did so impressively for Christian Williams and, despite going up 11lb, he's very much the sort to do better turned out 10 days later in this higher grade.
Huntingdon winner Go Steady is low-mileage and an obvious contender for the Skeltons here, while Golden Whisky can also expect to be in the shake-up.
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