Sandown Imperial Cup Day Preview
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Sandown Imperial Cup Day Preview

The Saturday afternoon pre-Cheltenham can mean only one thing - it's Imperial Cup Day at Sandown Park. The Esher venue's Grade 3 handicap hurdle dangles a prize for any horse that can win here and then go on and score again in the Cotswolds next week. It's been done three times since the bonus payout was first offered in 1992, with David Pipe's Gaspara - winning the Fred Winter in 2007 - the most recent to manage it. Langer Dan almost did it last year, Dan Skelton's charge thwarted only by Galopin Des Champs in the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham after his Imperial Cup victory. They race at Sandown from 1.15pm-4.45pm on Saturday with seven races and conditions forecast as: 'Chase: good-good to soft in places; hurdle: good to soft-good in places'. The Racing Post previews all the action below.


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1.15 - Paddy Power Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (2m)

An opening dust-off between two trainers enjoying excellent runs, Milton Harris and Gary Moore.

The former runs Hasty Parisian, placed over hurdles at Warwick and Doncaster in recent months. He doesn't look overburdened off an opening mark of 107 and, while he might be wanting further before long, the exacting nature of the home straight at Sandown will draw on his stamina.

Preference is for fellow handicap debutant, the unbeaten LANGAFEL for the Moore's, Gary and son Jamie. He was nothing special on the Flat but won both hurdles starts at Newton Abbot and Market Rasen last summer. He successfully gave away a penalty in the second of those wins in August and has been off since.

With the yard blasting in winners at a 25 per-cent strike-rate in recent weeks, he should be tuned up for this return/handicap bow and he'll lack for nothing in the saddle.

Jumping is a bit of worry for Malakahna, so another handicap debutant, Monsieur Pom Pom, could emerge as the chief threat to the big two.

Selection: Langafel

Next Best: Hasty Parisian

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1.50 - Paddy Power EBF 'National Hunt' Novices' Handicap Hurdle Final (Grade 3, 2m4f)

Paul Nicholls will be hoping Knappers Hill can go well here after a good sixth in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month. He's likely to be suited by the extra half-mile in theory but does have to carry an additional 12lb with his top-weight burden now.

Thunder Rock and Peejaybee have combined to win their last five starts and are respected for Olly Murphy and Richard Spencer respectively again.

Nicholls' second string seemingly is Complete Unknown. He bumped into a good one in Jerrash at Ascot in January, that rival going well in Listed company next time before readily winning a Fontwell novice under penalty. He's not out of the picture under Lorcan Williams.

Dubrovnik Harry and Triple Trade, for Harry Fry and Colin Tizzard, have possibilities but OUR JET is just preferred for Dan and Harry Skelton in a typically fierce renewal of this Grade 3.

A wind op appears to have been telling for him and he comes here after successive Wetherby wins at 2m/2m3½f in the opening two months of the year.

The most recent of those was achieved in spite of his jumping being far from fluent as he came clear with and overhauled next-time-out winner Rafferty's Return. A mark of 122 may well prove to be underestimating him, once he can iron out that technique at the obstacles.

Selection: Our Jet

Next Best: Complete Unknown

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2.25 - Paddy Power Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m)

Dan Skelton saddled his maiden Imperial Cup winner with Langer Dan last March and so nearly went on and won at Cheltenham six days later.

He counts Lucky One and Calico as his two contenders now. Both are potentially well-treated. The latter returns from a short break and is on a reduced mark even before his riders' 7lb claim is factored in.

Lucky One, meanwhile, has been well enough held in three starts since joining from Paul Nicholls but did run third (beaten 40-lengths) in a hot Ascot handicap last month.

Balco Coastal arrives on the up and makes his handicap debut hoping to give Nicky Henderson a first Imperial Cup win since 2009 - he's got to go on any shortlist. That list should also give due consideration to the likes of Current Mood, Up For Parol, Kihavah, Lively Citizen and the Nicholls pair Hacker Des Places and Miranda.

In a white-hot contest, Neil King's ONEMOREFORTHEROAD is the selection. In the last 12 months his figures over hurdles read 1141112 - with that latest silver medal coming behind Tritonic at Ascot over this sort of trip in December. That was a good race and the form has been boosted multiple times.

He's only rated 1lb higher now, goes well fresh and his proven stamina will be an asset on the long run for home at this venue, where his proven record of being up on the pace will also be a positive.

Selection: Onemorefortheroad

Next Best: Calico

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3.00 - British Stallion Studs EBF Mares' Standard Open NH Flat Race (Listed, 2m)

Luccia made a winning start for Nicky Henderson at Warwick in January, eventually getting well on top at the line but she was getting 21lb from runner-up Blow Your Wad that afternoon and the form isn't working out particularly well, so far.

There's more to come from the 4YO filly by The Gurkha, with Nico de Boinville now taking over in the saddle, but she's possibly bumping into a high-class mare in the making in MULLENBEG for in-form trainer Milton Harris.

The daughter of Walk In The Park began her career under Rules with a straightforward success at Ludlow in January and, just 19 days later, she showed a really clever turn of foot in putting away a good field of mares at Cheltenham.

Those wins have come on soft/good going, so she's clearly versatile in regards to conditions and she wouldn't have looked out of place heading for the Cotswolds on Wednesday to compete in the Champion Bumper.

She holds Flirtatious Girl on form and has more going for her than Malina Jamila - the trio carrying penalties today - and can stamp her class on this contest.

Willie Mullins sends over Eabha Grace, she must be respected, while Dan Skelton's Meetuatnine has received positive dispatches from a yard that does well in this sphere.

Selection: Mullenbeg

Next Best: Luccia

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Jonathan Woodgate Exclusive: Conte Would Have Been Perfect

3.35 - Paddy Power Novices' Handicap Chase (Listed, 2m4f)

A decent field this and a valuable prize and, in truth, a six-runner field perhaps best served being here rather than Cotswolds-bound in a few days' time.

Flic Ou Voyou and Danny Kirwan represent a Paul Nicholls team now finding its feet after a testing period. The latter is certainly capable under Harry Cobden, after opening his chasing account at Wincanton in January over this sort trip (third start).

Collateral form from that race suggests he'll be well matched with Kempton scorer Killer Kane today. They are both considered, while Frenchy Du Large drops in trip and can go well for Venetia Williams, and Dorking Lad is on top of his game lately for Gary Moore.

SCENE NOT HERD is 3-3 over fences for Charlie Longsdon, All three of those mid-winter scores at Hereford, Newcastle and Ludlow were pleasing and he now fully merits a crack at a Listed prize.

An 80-day break between runs is no barrier to him given his record when fresh and Johnny Burke's partner very much appeals as the one to beat.

Selection: Scene Not Herd

Next Best: Danny Kirwan

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4.10 - Paddy Power Handicap Chase (3m)

POWERSTOWN PARK was in blistering form this time 12 months ago, notching three hurdles wins in eight days. He has managed two wins in five this season since going chasing and really has thrived since going up to staying trips.

His Boxing Day defeat at Market Rasen in the Lincolnshire National is easy enough to forgive, and has been flanked either side by wins at Hereford over 3m1f. More to come from him for a Sam Thomas team in superb order.

Flagrant Delitiep has been in good tune at Wincanton in recent times, scoring there over 2m4f this month after two near misses and could be the danger if he lasts home on his first attempt at this distance.

Paul Nicholls' Switch Hitter was outpaced at Hereford over 2m5f in January and, with the yard in much better form now and his stamina assured, he is another key player.

Selection: Powerstown Park

Next Best: Switch Hitter

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4.45 - Paddy Power '3 Sleeps To Cheltenham' Handicap Chase (2m4f)

Nocte Volatus won at Huntingdon on Sunday for Tom Lacey and has further claims under a penalty, though some caution attaches itself when reading figures of F1R1F1 this season. If he gets around in one piece and without incident, he's as likely as any and he never put a foot wrong last time.

Nickolson has been third in all three starts over fences so far. Olly Murphy's charge couldn't grasp a good opportunity at Leicester three weeks ago however and will have to do better in first-time cheekpieces now.

Mahler's Promise is given some relent from the assessor but maybe FOXBORO can break his duck over fences for Robert Walford. He hasn't done a lot wrong of late and bumped into a rival clearly in form when second to Flegmatik at Kempton last time.

He came from the rear to finish second in that contest and, with Harry Cobden booked to ride for the first time here, the bottom weight might get rewarded for his consistency of effort.

Selection: Foxboro

Next Best: Nocte Volatus

 

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