Pine Creek can claim Sandown’s Imperial Cup

 
Bill Esdaile
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BILL ESDAILE PREVIEWS THE BEST OF THE WEEKEND’S RACING

THE waiting is almost over for the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, but tomorrow’s Paddy Power Imperial Cup meeting at Sandown gives punters one last chance to boost their Festival war chest.

The sponsors are offering a £75,000 bonus for any horse that wins tomorrow’s highlight (3.15pm) and goes on to take any race at Cheltenham. David Pipe was the last to pull off the double with Gaspara in 2007 and this is a race his family has always targeted.

Father Martin won it six times between 1989-2005 and David landed back-to-back triumphs in 2007 and 2008. The yard is set to rely on Tanerko Emery, who carries top weight, and Kazlian, but I’m prepared to look elsewhere as the former has risen rapidly in the weights and the latter has been in poor form this campaign.

This is one of the bigger prizes to elude champion trainer Paul Nicholls, although Mr Mole might be his best chance yet. AP McCoy, who has won this race five times, takes the ride and the duo are certain to start favourites.

I think Mr Mole is progressive, but it’s not easy to win a competitive handicap hurdle like this off 11st 9lb and, incidentally, the last nine victors all carried less than 11 stone.

This doesn’t look to be the greatest of Imperial Cups, but I’m happy to leave the favourite alone at 10/3 with Coral.

John Ferguson continues to make his mark on the National Hunt scene and PINE CREEK looks as though he has been laid out for this race.

Denis O’Regan gave him one of the cheekiest rides of the season when he beat McCoy’s mount Irish Buccaneer by just a head at Leicester in January. The combination then went on to take another novices’ hurdle at Doncaster last month and Pine Creek looks well-handicapped tomorrow off 130.

The son of Doyen had some useful form on the flat for Andre Fabre in France and all ground comes the same to him, so the unsettled forecast holds no fears.

Ferguson has him entered in three handicap hurdles next week, which is a good sign, and I think 12/1 with Coral is more than fair each-way value.

The EBF Mares’ Bumper (3.50pm) is always hotly contested and Alan King landed the prize with Call Me A Star 12 months ago. This time the Barbury Castle trainer has OUR POLLYANNA in the field and this is her first start for the yard following a hugely impressive win at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve.

Unfortunately, Choc Thornton won’t be in the saddle as he broke his arm earlier in the week and will miss Cheltenham. However, Wayne Hutchison is a more than able replacement and Our Pollyanna has reportedly been working very well at home.

This race is always very hard to win, but I’d be surprised if my selection doesn’t go very close.

It is always interesting at this time of year to look for potential Cheltenham horses that are entered up a few days in advance in the hope they will pick up a penalty to get into one of the Festival handicaps.

Gordon Elliott is a master at preparing his charges for the big day, but he needs to get penalties into two of his runners to guarantee their place.

BONISLAND was dropped 2lb by the British handicapper which means he’s got next to no chance of getting in the Martin Pipe next Friday. However, the wily trainer has entered him in the Listed novice hurdle at Naas on Sunday (2.10pm) and a win in that would ensure he could go to Cheltenham.

He ran really well behind Albert Bartlett favourite Ballycasey last time and would be one of the favourites for the conditional jockey’s race if he gets in.

Elliott went so close to winning that same race last season with TONER D’OUDAIRIES and he has been careful to protect his mark over fences. Perhaps a little too careful, though, as the Gigginstown-owned six-year-old looks unlikely to get in any of the chases he’s entered in at the moment.

He’s entered in tomorrow’s beginners chase at Gowran Park (4.30pm) and if he takes his chance you’d have to expect him to win that before setting up a tilt at the Byrne Group Plate next Thursday.

Elsewhere, keep an eye out next Friday for Red Noseband Day, an initiative inspired by Lovetheraces and Arena Racing Company. Trainers will be invited to kit their horses out in specially made red nosebands and ARC will generously donate £250 to Comic Relief for every horse that wears one. Members of the public can donate by visiting justgiving.com/RedNosebandDay.

It’s the City A.M. Long Lunch this afternoon where former leading jump jockey Mick Fitzgerald will be in attendance. We will be reporting his thoughts ahead of the Cheltenham Festival in Monday’s paper and will be covering all the action live from the track next week.

You can follow me on Twitter @BillEsdaile.

Pointers…

PINE CREEK e/w 3.15pm Sandown (tomorrow)
OUR POLLYANNA 3.50pm Sandown (tomorrow)
TONER D’OUDAIRIES 4.30pm Gowran Park (tomorrow)
BONISLAND 2.10pm Naas (Sunday)