BILL ESDAILE PREVIEWS THE BEST OF THE WEEKEND’S RACING
THE PIPE family have won tomorrow’s Imperial Cup at Sandown Park (3.10pm) a staggering nine times and current trainer David will be hoping Bidourey or Heath Hunter can give Pond House a record 10th success.
Tom Scudamore has picked the unbeaten Bidourey and he will be hoping he can repeat last year’s victory with Baltimore Rock.
Bidourey is only a four-year-old, but age didn’t beat Gaspara or Ashkazar, and this gelding is certainly respected. However, he is yet to race on anything slower than soft and, with the ground drying out, he could struggle to match the speed of some of his other rivals.
Heath Hunter can’t be ruled out, either. He bounced back to form at Ffos Las last time and is exactly the type of tough handicapper to run well in this race.
However, the one that appeals most to me at the prices is John Ferguson’s ZIP TOP, with champion jockey AP McCoy riding at close to his lowest riding weight.
The six-year-old was second to Camelot in the 2011 Racing Post Trophy and he has since won two of his four starts over hurdles. But he is yet to encounter a sound surface and the recent dry patch is exactly what is needed for this son of Smart Strike.
Ferguson has had a very good season and goes to Cheltenham with a number of strong chances to break his Festival duck.
McCoy has ridden for him regularly this season and he clearly feels that Zip Top has an excellent chance of giving him a record-breaking sixth win in the race, 17 years after he first won it on Blowing Wind in 1998.
Zip Top carries just 10st5lb and the last horse to carry 11st or more to success was Korelo, again under McCoy, in 2003. The 12/1 available with Betway is a very fair each-way price.
The other one I am tempted to back is Arzal for Harry Whittington at around 12/1. He ran well in the Betfair Hurdle and also performed admirably behind Jollyallan at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Calipto is respected and connections clearly have an eye on the £100,000 bonus for going on to win any race at next week’s Festival, but 11st5lb is going to be a tough ask.
The EBF Final (2.00pm) is always a major target for trainers during the season and Nicky Henderson has won two of the last four renewals.
He is sure to be represented and Aigle De La See is likely to be his number one hope. He followed up his January course and distance win with a ready success at Ffos Las last time, but the one I’m interested in is the one who finished second to him at Sandown.
MONBEG THEATRE has always been very well regarded by promising trainer Jamie Snowdon and he travelled like the winner that day. A combination of his jockey going too soon and the deep ground meant he finished very tired, but he’s had a nice break since and I fancy him to reverse the form.
I was at Gary Moore’s West Sussex yard earlier this week to see the finishing touches being put to Sire De Grugy’s preparations for a second Betway Champion Chase.
The trainer was bullish about his stable star’s chances, but I was also interested to find out about the progressive TRAFFIC FLUIDE who at the time had an entry in the Chaps Restaurant Novices’ Chase on the first day of the Festival.
Moore has wisely made the call to give Cheltenham a miss this year and that decision can pay immediate dividends, as the five-year-old is expected to notch his second chase win at Sandown tomorrow in the novices’ handicap chase (4.20pm).
The son of Astarabad probably should have won at Ascot two starts back, but he made up for that disappointment with a commanding performance at Plumpton last time.
He will relish the soft ground and small field that he is certain to face tomorrow and this looks the ideal race for him at this stage of his career.
Moore clearly thinks the world of him and he could be an interesting contender for something like the Paddy Power Gold Cup next November if he progresses as is hoped during the summer.
Make sure you pick up a copy of City AM every day next week. We will be reporting live from Prestbury Park and leading jockey Bryan Cooper will also be providing a daily column on his rides.
MONBEG THEATRE 2.00pm Sandown
ZIP TOP e/w 3.10pm Sandown
TRAFFIC FLUIDE 4.20pm Sandown