NEXT WEEK’S Cheltenham festival casts a lengthening shadow over this weekend’s action and many punters will be keeping their powder dry for Prestbury Park.
A big field handicap that is often won by an outsider typifies the fare on offer and tomorrow’s (Saturday) Imperial Cup looks another open contest. Only one favourite has gone in during the last 10 years but joint market leader MONSIEUR LECOQ looks well treated off a mark of 132.
That’s 10lb higher than when last seen on the track but still allows him to race off a nice light weight and he must have a huge chance as a 5/1 shot with Carrigill’s. His two wins this season have come on soft and heavy ground so this week’s rain will suit, and his trainer Jane Williams landed a big handicap hurdle at Kempton at the end of last month with Erick Le Rouge.
The regular offer of a bonus – doubled last year to £100,000 by Matchbook – for any horse winning the Imperial Cup and following up at Cheltenham, always attracts a competitive field. David Pipe and Tom Scudamore will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of their illustrious fathers with EXTRA MAG. Exactly 30 years ago, Travel Mystery landed this race for Martin Pipe and Peter Scudamore and the horse needs to win to run in the Martin Pipe next week. An intriguing omen.
FIRST LINK was my nap last week but never made it to the track. She shaped as though further was needed when mid-div over 7f on her handicap debut and consequently found 6f against her when fifth last time. She’s two from two since, relishing the step up to a mile on her last start and I’m sticking with her to land the hat-trick this afternoon (Friday) in Lingfield’s 2.10.
Looking ahead to Cheltenham, I fail to see how CLANS DES OBEAUX is joint favourite for the Gold Cup on the back of four defeats from four runs at Prestbury Park and a best performance of sixth of 15 in a Triumph Hurdle. He is a bridle horse who finds nothing when the going gets tough and will again be found out by the punishing hill. If you are a layer on the exchanges this looks too good to miss. In a wide open contest my money will be with KEMBOY.
I’m equally surprised that Ruby Walsh tops the bookies lists to be top jockey at the festival. Apart from BENIE DES DIEUX in the Mares’ Hurdle Walsh doesn’t seem to have many clear cut opportunities especially as Paul Townend will have more than his fair share of rides for a smaller than usual Willie Mullins’ string. Davy Russell (11/2) and Barry Geraghty at 7/2 make more appeal.
For a race that is frenetic and littered with horses who have fallen, been brought down or experienced trouble in running, novices have a surprisingly good record in the Grand Annual and I really like Alan King’s BALLYWOOD. Second-best to Dynamite Dollars by only three-and-a-half lengths last time out at Donny, his jumping could be the key, and if he can stay up with the pace he’s a massive plus for me at Cheltenham next week.
Carrigill’s nap: (money back as a free bet if finishes outside top 4): EXTRA MAG, Saturday, Sandown, 2.25.
Augur’s best bet: FIRST LINK (e/w), Saturday, Lingfield, 2.10.