Timeform's Matt Gardner turns his attention to the Imperial Cup, Saturday's feature contest at Sandown...
Dragons' Den, which has long since been one of the BBC's leading lights, is one of my favourite programmes on TV, at least it was until Hilary Devey emerged on the panel. I can't be having Hilary: I find her voice irritating and her suspiciously youthful hair disturbing, so you can imagine my delight when it was announced last autumn that she would be departing the show.
I much preferred the quintet of James Caan, Duncan Bannatyne, Deborah Meaden, Theo Paphitis and Peter Jones, with this line-up having the correct mix of intelligence, friction and humour to produce first-rate television. How much the aforementioned individuals know about horseracing I'm not sure but they are going to act as my conduits in this piece, analysing four unexposed and improving hurdlers in an attempt to find the winner of the 2013 Imperial Cup. For consistency, each candidate will attempt to convince the investors to part with £100 (I know it's more on the telly, but we don't all have millions to chuck at blokes in shiny suits selling inflatable pyjamas) with the promise of a return on investment relative to their price should they triumph.
Mr Mole (Paul Nicholls) 5.0n/a, potential profit = £400
"I'm here in an attempt to secure my place in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham. I've won impressively on three of the four occasions that I have taken to the track, although I'll admit to having let myself down a bit when finishing second at Wincanton last November, but I reckon I've got plenty more up my sleeve."
Duncan: Let yourself down? You were a complete and utter disgrace, hanging badly left as soon as AP asked you for a modicum of effort. Your trainer has entered you in the EBF Final, so you may not even run in this, and your attitude stinks, I'M OUT.
Deborah: I think your latest win at Taunton could be a bit of a smokescreen, as your mettle wasn't tested in anyway and this will pose a whole new challenge. Yes your defeat of Melodic Rendezvous reads well given that one's subsequent exploits, but when considering the amount of profit I stand to make by supporting you it is, quite simply, not worth the risk. I'M OUT.
James: Easy guys, I think you're being a touch harsh. Considering your inexperience I think you've done remarkable well so far and I can see that amount of untapped potential you possess. Yes, you're maybe not quite the finished article as yet but I feel that I possess the tools to get the best out of you and I am more than willing to invest at the rate you are offering.
Tominator (Jonjo O'Neill) 10.5n/a, potential profit = £950
"I was a useful handicapper on the Flat, winning the Northumberland Plate and finishing third in the Cesarewitch at my best, and looked an exciting prospect when winning on debut over hurdles at Bangor. I wasn't entirely foot-perfect when disappointing at Cheltenham but showed more of what I can do when beating subsequent winner Leviathan over C&D last time, taking my hurdles much more fluently and toying with my rivals at the finish, and I know that I've got much more to offer over timber."
Deborah: Your jumping hasn't convinced me at all. The one competitive scenario you've been presented with so far saw your hurdling go to pot, and there is nothing to convince me that, come Saturday, that weakness won't come to the fore once more. I'M OUT.
Theo: I understand what Deborah is saying but it is easy to imagine just how far you could go over hurdles, and that excites me. I would be willing to invest but I'd want to spread the risk, so I'd offer you half of the money in return for a £475 profit. Clearly I'd need another dragon to join me in this project, what do you say Peter?
Peter: Not a chance Theo you limp-wristed fool, have you overlooked the fact that Tominator needs to win here to stand any chance of running at Cheltenham? I have every confidence in the horse's ability to land this valuable handicap before going on to make a good fist of scoring at the Festival and I would not hesitate to offer all of the money. In fact I would go as far as saying that I'd be happy to accept a lower profit in order to secure this one; the full amount in return for a £750 profit, how does that sound?
Pine Creek (John Ferguson) 12.5n/a, potential profit = £1150
"Bonjour, I was a useful performer on the Flat when trained in France by Andre Fabre and have taken to hurdling well since being switched to my new yard, finishing third on debut before scoring at both Leicester and Doncaster. I cannot boast quite the form that some of my rivals can, but surely you can see that I remain open to further improvement?"
Peter: No I'm afraid I can't, this is as far as you will come my friend. I'M OUT.
Duncan: Peter! Could you be anymore wrong? Yes his Leicester form doesn't amount to much but you'd have to be as blind as you are tall not to see how much more this one could have to offer. He is in particularly capable hands and I am going to bite his hoof off in order to seal this deal.
Pine Creek: Erm... actually I'm going to have to renegotiate, my price has contracted so the potential profit on offer is now only £950.
Duncan: Well that's the deal breaker I'm afraid, you should not be the same price as Tominator; as Peter quite rightly pointed out, we'd happily take shorter about him. I'M OUT.
Evan Davis (presenter): Pine Creek leaves the den having failed to secure any investment.
Thunderstorm (Philip Hobbs) 10.0n/a, potential profit = £900
"Unlike some of my lightly-raced peers I can boast much more hurdling experience, having taken to the track nine times and emerged triumphant on each of the last five occasions. I have improved steadily with each outing and feel that I can continue to do so, I simply require your backing here."
James: I'm pretty happy with the investment I have already made, so feel no need to involve myself here. I'M OUT.
Deborah: You profile is an attractive one but I rarely invest in anything on this programme, so why break the habit of a lifetime? I'M OUT.
Duncan: You remind me of myself somewhat, in that you have built yourself up from fairly innocuous beginnings to now be competing against a higher calibre of opposition. I like that. I also like your knack for only doing enough in your races, which could keep you out of the handicapper's grasp for a while yet, so I see you as both a short-term profit machine and a longer-term investment. You'll do for me.
The David Pipe-trained Kazlian regrettably didn't make it to the edit but, for what it's worth, the dragons' general consensus was that he could easily defy his mark en route to Cheltenham if he returns to anywhere near his best, though they were worried that last year's Fred Winter may have left an enduring mark upon him.
Who knew that the stars of Dragons' Den were so clued up on their two-mile handicap hurdle form lines? Not me for one, but their opinions would suggest that the best bet is either Mr Mole or Tominator (Duncan's attraction to Thunderstorm doesn't count as I've long been convinced that he's a bit of a clown). What's worrying is that Mr Mole already looks a touch wayward and it is likely to take all of James Caan's/Paul Nicholls' magic to straighten him out, so I'd much rather side with Tominator who really needs to win this if he is to take up any of his Festival engagements, should prove capable of better still over hurdles when considering his Flat form and actually looks to be a fair price at present.
Back Tominator @ 10.5n/a in the Imperial Cup