WE are now only four days away from the start of the Cheltenham Festival and tomorrow’s Paddy Power Imperial Cup at Sandown (3.00pm) gives us one last chance to garner some extra clues. The sponsors are putting up a £75,000 bonus for a horse that wins tomorrow and at the Festival.
The only place to start when analysing this race is with David Pipe who won it back-to-back in 2007 and 2008, following on from father Martin’s six successes between 1989 and 2005. The stable has landed the bonus on three occasions and it looks as though Arrayan is their number one hope this year. He was a desperately unlucky loser at Taunton last time when his inexperienced jockey lost his footing and fell out of the saddle, but his best form is with plenty of cut in the ground and I’m not sure tomorrow’s conditions will play to his strengths.
Pipe’s other runner Ronaldo Des Mottes is rated 149 and that means a number of horses have excellent racing weights. Nicky Henderson’s Eradicate has a big chance and loves good ground, but I have a feeling this race could be something of an afterthought for him.
The one who I am sweet on is Gary Moore’s VIA GALILEI who was an impressive winner of a competitive handicap at Newbury last weekend. Moore’s horses are on fire at the moment and he has always done well in these valuable handicap hurdles. He was set to run Sire De Grugy as well, but that one needed rain and this fellow will love these quicker conditions. It has paid to side with the more fancied runners in recent years, with six of the last nine favourites winning and only two double-figure priced winners in that time. This year’s renewal is a very open looking affair, but we can get 9/1 each-way with the sponsor and that is good enough for me.
There are a whole host of interesting contenders, including Lucy Wadham’s Alarazi and Jessica Harrington’s Alpine Eagle. However, the other one worth backing each-way is Charlie Swan’s PRINCE OF FIRE at around the 16/1 mark. Owned by JP McManus, who won this race last year with Qaspal, he gets in at the foot of the weights and I’m sure connections wouldn’t be coming here unless they thought he had a serious chance. The key to this fellow is that he has had plenty of experience of running in large handicap fields and that is always a big advantage.
Victor Chandler are offering a fantastic promotion on this race where they will refund second, third and fourth placed finishers in the form of a free bet for day one at Cheltenham.
The Sandown card kicks off with the EBF Hurdle (1.55pm) and Dynaste is likely to head the market and the weights here. However, I’m prepared to take him on with Tom George’s SIVOLA DE SIVOLA down at the bottom of the handicap.
George has had a tough time of it this winter, but the yard has bounced back in recent weeks and this fellow has been running in some top class races.
He was second to Supreme Novices’ hope Spirit Son at Huntingdon in January and could run a big race at an each-way price.
I wouldn’t put anyone off Paul Nicholls’ French recruit MON PARRAIN in the 2.25pm. This is his first run in this country and with Ruby Walsh in the saddle he could take a lot of beating.
You can follow me on Twitter @BillEsdaile and get all my latest thoughts in the build up to the Festival.
SIVOLA DE SIVOLA e/w 1.55pm Sandown (tomorrow)
MON PARRAIN 2.25pm Sandown (tomorrow)
VIA GALILEI e/w 3.00pm Sandown (tomorrow)
PRINCE OF FIRE e/w 3.00pm Sandown (tomorrow)