Tony Calvin previews the action at Sandown on Saturday and explains why he's sticking with both his antepost bets in the Imperial Cup...
"Malaya was one almighty eye-catcher behind stablemate Brio Conti over 2m3f at Ascot last time, where she was not given at all a hard time after the last, having breezed through the race. I imagine the priority was to get her round and enjoying life again after two previous falls, and Harry Codben looked to have achieved that all right."
Both my antepost fancies have Imperial chance
It is most unlike me, but I put up two ante-post bets for the Imperial Cup on Tuesday - Malaya at 8/1 each way with the Betfair Sportsbook and Totterdown at [34.0] on the exchange, - and I am happy to report that both have made it to the race.
And the better news is that I still fancy them, in no small part due to the fact that Call Me Lord has stood his ground and kept three of the market leaders - the favourite Monsieur Lecoq, Extra Mag and Benny's Bridge - out of the weights proper.
In the case of the latter it is a hefty 5lb (it would have been 8lb had he not been raised 3lb on Tuesday due to his Cheltenham win working out well), and Nick Williams went on Twitter on Thursday and said his son Chester would probably have to put up 3lb overweight on the current jolly.
The case for Totterdown at 33/1 was pretty simple in that he is a course winner who will love the soft ground, and was dropped 2lb for a perfectly acceptable run on good at Chepstow last time, where mistakes at the last two flights probably cost him third place.
His 5lb claimer can do 9st 10lb, so he looks to be on a very nice mark, though one thing that does concern me is that he is a front-runner and there will be a lot of competition for the lead here.
Malaya should be clear favourite
I still think he is a touch overpriced, though if you are new to the party then I have to recommend an interest on Malaya at 6/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook, who are now paying five places.
I always find I am bit cautious about backing in Sandown handicap hurdles in testing ground, as the course can be a law unto itself. Horses often finish in desperate slow-motion, and go from tanking along to being beaten in a matter of strides.
I very much hope that doesn't happen to the smooth-travelling Malaya, as I think she has outstanding claims and should be clear favourite.
She was one almighty eye-catcher behind stablemate Brio Conti over 2m3f at Ascot last time, where she was not given at all a hard time after the last, having breezed through the race.
I imagine the priority was to get her round and enjoying life again after two previous falls, and Harry Codben looked to have achieved that all right.
Paul Nicholls, operating at over a 30 per cent strike-rate of late, surely couldn't believe his luck when he saw that the mare was actually dropped 1lb for that run, and that leaves her just 2lb higher than when beating a dual subsequent scorer in the soft at Ascot over 2m this time last year.
The expected strong pace really should play to her strengths, and I am pretty sweet on her chances, as you may have gathered.
King has a contender at a big price
Of those I haven't mentioned, Solomon Grey and Speredek look fairly priced.
I imagine a fair few of the field have been laid out for the EBF Final at 13:50 and that certainly appears to be the case with Senior Citizen to judge from Alan King's comments in his Racing Post Weekender column.
His horse certainly appears to be on a fair mark judged on his Ascot third in November and he would have been better served by a more aggressive ride when fourth to Boldmere at Market Rasen last time. I confidently expect him to turn the form around with the winner here.
His Chepstow win earlier in the campaign came in a good time (in the context of this handicap), and apparently connections think he will handle the softer ground okay. There really should be a lot more to come from him on only his fifth start over hurdles, and he looks a decent bet at [23.0] or bigger.
Other Sandown thoughts
There will be no surprise that I don't have a betting view in the bumper at 15:00 and I am happy enough to leave the other ITV at Sandown alone, too.
I did consider Horatio Hornblower at a double-figure price in the 3m handicap chase at 15:35 as he is 4lb lower than when beaten a neck in this race last season and his stable are just swinging into form with Cheltenham around the corner.
But he hasn't been running well enough to get my money, and I am sure more tempting punts await next week.
Don't ignore the Wolver action
It seems heresy to be discussing all-weather racing just five days Cheltenham but the two ITV races on Wolverhampton are pretty high-class affairs in anyone's Flat language.
You can fully see why Pactolus heads the market in the Lincoln Trial at 14:05 as this four-time course winner shaped very well behind the mighty Wissahickon over 1m2f at Lingfield and he is fully effective at this shorter trip; indeed, he finished a narrow second to Big Country in this race last season.
You always have to respect William Haggas in these early-season handicaps - indeed, any race - given his phenomenally consistent and impressive strike-rate, and he has been among the winners of late, so Victory Bond's chances have to be respected.
However, the one that initially caught my eye was Breden, who comes here in good form and looked overpriced at around 16/1.
But he is the oldest horse in the race, has never run at this course before, and hails from a stable that is not exactly flying of late. So I would be forcing it rather if I were to make him a bet in the circumstances. The eight-runner 7f Listed race at 15:15 contains seven horses rated 101 and higher, and it looks a tricky race to call as a result.
That said, Oh This Is Us has 5lb and more on the field on official ratings and is the predictable, and deserved, 5/2 favourite.
In summary, I can leave these two races alone. I'll be back on Monday with my thoughts on Day One of Cheltenham. Good luck.
Tony Calvin P&L - April 14 2017 to March 7 2019 inclusive
+£148 (all recommended exchange bets are settled at Betfair SP)
Senior Citizen at [23.0] or bigger in 13:50 at Sandown
Malaya 6/1 each way, five places, with Betfair Sportsbook in 14:25 at Sandown
Already Recommended Antepost
Malaya 8/1 each way in Imperial Cup
Totterdown at [34.0] in Imperial Cup