Tony Calvin: Two selections ahead of Saturday's Imperial Cup

Sandown Hurdle Action
The Imperial Cup at Sandown is the big race on Saturday

It's the final weekend of racing before the Cheltenham Festival and Tony Calvin is hoping to bolster his betting bank with two midweek wagers for Saturday's Imperial Cup...

"He immediately went up 10lb for that win, and finished an okay third here next time, but he has come down 4lb since and just looks like a horse who will have his ideal conditions, namely back to 2m on testing ground on a track where he has won."

With the "big un" less than a week away now, I think we can park the Cheltenham chat - in this column, at least - until next Monday, so let's have a look at the Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday, shall we?

It a tricky and competitive affair, as you would expect for such a valuable handicap hurdle pot, and it is 9/2 the field on the Betfair Sportsbook, with Monsieur Lecoq heading the betting.

Running plans are probably still in the air for a few of these - and Monsier Lecoq does has an alternative engagement at Warwick on Sunday, as well as two engagements at Cheltenham - but this does look an obvious race for the favourite.

He will experience similar ground conditions than when sluicing up in the heavy over course and distance in January, but the issue is whether he is still fairly handicapped off a 10lb higher mark in what is likely to be a much deeper race.

Lord can Call the shots, at least from a weights perspective

It could well be that Call Me Lord holds the key to this race, as he heads the weights at 11st 12lb and it is then a hefty 14lb down to Speredek, with 12 of the 26 entries currently out of the handicap, including the jolly.

And it is fair to assume Call Me Lord will stand his ground later in the week, even if he does have a few entries at Cheltenham, given that he can boast course form figures of 1121 and that second placing came in a neck defeat in this race last year and he clearly handles testing conditions very well.

That narrow miss last year may have come off an 8lb lower mark than this, and it takes a fair bit of doing to win a handicap off his mark of 160, but given he went off 7/2 favourite for the Grade 1 Long Walk won by Paisley Park at Ascot in December (he blew out, mind you) then presumably someone thinks he is up to that level and beyond.

And maybe Nicky Henderson could be doubly-tempted to run him as his hat-trick-seeking Dream Du Grand Val is on a handy 10st 5lb at the moment.

Benny heads a strong list of those with a decent chance

Quite a few of those towards the top of the market will be hoping Call Me Lord gives the race a swerve, and none more so than Benny's Bridge, who is currently 8lb out of the handicap.

He was given one of the rides of the season by Paddy Brennan when winning at Cheltenham last time, after some very promising spins earlier in the campaign, and he would be one to fear if racing here off his correct, revised mark.

Granted, he is 6lb higher and the handicapper didn't miss him, but the manner of the win was pretty stunning and the form has stacked up well. Indeed, he would be 3lb well-in here if the weights were to go up.

Sandown Hurdle Jump - 1280.jpg

The third, Flashing Glance (also entered in here) has obliged since and the fourth, Champagne City, went very close at Newbury on Saturday and probably should have won (pocket-talking, that much is true).

The Betfair Hurdle form is represented by the placed horses Magic Dancer and Blu Cavalier, and Winston C races off an 11lb higher mark than when winning over track and trip last time.

They have fair claims, and others towards the top of the betting include the mud-lover First Flow and Paul Nicholls' Malaya, who has dropped back down to a very decent mark again and showed a lot more when fourth over an extended 2m3f at Ascot last month.

Another big Saturday winner for Nicholls?

Malaya was actually a massive eye-catcher that day, travelling like a dream throughout the race, and not being subjected to a hard time after the last.

Perhaps Harry Cobden felt the gauge run to empty there over a trip that may stretch her stamina, but I bet connections were delighted that she was dropped another 1lb for it, and that she had a nice confidence-booster after two falls previously.

She is now only 2lb higher than when winning by 3+ lengths over a sub-2m in the soft at Ascot last March, from a dual subsequent scorer, and I think there is some mileage in backing her at 8/1 each way with the Betfair Sportsbook.

Nicholls Stable Tour - 12880.jpg

I could easily see her going off as favourite, back in trip off a falling mark, and netting another big Saturday win for the rampant Nicholls.

Malaya is in the handicap on 10st 2lb, so isn't troubled by Call Me Lord running or not, but I would think Nicholls is hoping that the top weight is declared at the overnight stage.

A simple case to back a 33/1 shot

I don't tend to recommend midweek bets for the weekend ante-post races, but I am going to issue a first and suggest that you have a further interest on Totterdown in here off 10st 1lb at the moment, win-only on the exchange at [34.0] or bigger on the exchange.

The case for him is very simple.

He has been dropped 2lb for a fair fourth on good to soft ground at Chepstow last time, and he is now just 6lb higher than when winning over course and distance in heavy ground in November.

He immediately went up 10lb for that win, and finished an okay third here next time, but he has come down 4lb since and just looks like a horse who will have his ideal conditions, namely back to 2m on testing ground on a track where he has won.

Richard Phillips wouldn't be the most prolific trainer in the country but he had his sixth winner of the campaign at Taunton recently, and he has a good record at this track, throwing up a healthy level-stakes profit of £41.38 according to the Racing Post stats, with 6 scorers from 50 runners.

Plus he is a bloody nice bloke too, so there are two reasons why I want him to cop this big prize at the weekend!


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