Former Talksport man Charlie McCann marks your card with five to follow on Saturday at Sandown, Ayr and Wolverhampton. View selections below
Sandown’s Imperial Cup is the feature race this afternoon as the countdown to the Cheltenham Festival begins in earnest with the declarations through tomorrow for Tuesday’s opening day highlight the Champion Hurdle.
More immediately there is a valuable Novices’ Handicap Hurdle over 2m 3f at Sandown with 18 due to face the starter including Dan Skelton’s Two Taffs (2.00) who will appreciate the drying ground and was set an impossible task over the minimum trip when last seen out over Xmas.
Sticky, tacky ground would not suit this son of Flemensfirth but he can reward each way support in a very competitive race. The first tissue price I have seen is 9/2 which is shorter than I expected but he remains a horse of some potential and must run well if he settles coming back from a near 11 week lay-off.
The Skeltons have Knockgraffon in the Imperial Cup and he could easily run into a place at 14/1 with BetVictor but my unoriginal two against the field are Affaire D’Honneur (7/2) and Clayton (3.10) with marginal preference for the latter representing the yard of Gary Moore who have had such a good season at the Esher track.
The selection is 7/1 with BetVictor and was rated 100 on the flat for Kevin Ryan before turning his attentions to the winter game. He kept things simple when making most at Plumpton last month and looks as if he has been laid out for the race; yes he lacks experience of big field handicap hurdles but the drying ground will suit and he could be a blot on the handicap racing off the minimum weight of just 10st.
Copper Kay finished fourth in the Mares’ listed Bumper on the corresponding card last year and is back for more today but must give 4lbs to her 12 rivals as a result of winning in this grade at Cheltenham back in November.
It is difficult for 4-year-olds to beat the older horses at this stage of their development although I am a big admirer of Woolstone One; the vote, however, goes to Tearsofclewbay (3.45) a stablemate of likely favourite Copper Kay.
The selection is unbeaten in two starts including when ridden by conditional Conor Smith, who keeps the ride this afternoon, at Ascot last time when she battled on tenaciously all the way to the line. At 8/1 with BetVictor she gets the each way nod.
At Ayr dual course winner One For Arthur (4.05) can land the feature Hugh Barclay Challenge Trophy for Lucinda Russell although last year’s winner of the corresponding race King Of The Wolds will be a tough nut to crack running from a mark only 5lbs higher than last season. The selection will appreciate this test more than Carlisle on heavy ground last time when runner up from a 1lbs higher mark. The selection won over timber on this corresponding card last season and gets the vote.
At Wolverhampton Intermittent (5.10) can make it third time lucky having finished runner up on both starts over 7f back in the autumn; the filly will get further as the season progresses but connections look to have found an excellent opportunity and it would be no surprise to see leading conditional Tom Marquand try and make all from stall two.