Kevin Blake

Kevin Blake's Big Race Verdict: Expect big run from Faivoir in Betfair Imperial Cup

Horse racing expert Kevin Blake
Kevin thinks Faivoir has a good chance of winning at Sandown on Saturday

Kevin Blake uses his final Big Race Verdict before the Cheltenham Festival to preview Saturday's Betfair Imperial Cup at Sandown and recommends backing one that looks set to seize a winning opportunity...

Paul Nicholls Superboost

Betfair Ambassador Paul Nicholls saddles Sans Bruit in today's Betfair Imperial Cup, and if you fancy the horse to finish in the top six you can back him at the super-boosted price of 6/42.50 (from 4/51.80.

Back Sans Bruit to finish Top 6 in 14:25 Sandown @ 6/42.50

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There may or may not be something important taking place next week, but never mind it, because we have the Betfair Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle (14:25) at Sandown to look forward to on Saturday.

The race has attracted a very competitive field of 16 runners and it represents a tricky puzzle for all to solve.

Expect solid pace on testing track

The ground is currently heavy (soft in places) and the hurdle track at Sandown gets particularly testing, so horses that stay a bit further than the minimum may well be best suited to it. From a pace perspective, it looks likely to be a solid tempo.

Knickerbockerglory is a regular front runner in this type of contest. Shared is one that often helps push the pace. Bad likes to get prominent. Making Headway made all to win a novice hurdle last time, but this is much more competitive and he is unlikely to be quite as forward.

When one looks back at the recent history of this race, when the ground is testing it has tended to be difficult for those right up on the pace, with the majority of winners having been ridden with some degree of patience. With the ground being as it is for Saturday, that will be a key consideration in trying to find the winner.

Skelton runner favoured at Sandown

My search has landed me on the Dan Skelton-trained Faivoir. The nine-year-old was very much on the radar with a view to the Cheltenham Festival given that he erupted back to top form to win the County Hurdle last year.

On that occasion he was the best of the British by some margin in a finish otherwise dominated by Irish-trained contenders. He won off 134 that day and his campaign this season has the look of one that has been aiming towards a repeat bid for Cheltenham glory.

However, having only just sneaked into the County Hurdle off 134 last year, it looks at this stage as though a mark of 136 might not be enough to get him into the race. This might well have prompted some on-the-fly revision of plans and a switching of targets to this race.

Winnable opportunity knocks for Faivoir

While this might not be the same stage as the Cheltenham Festival, the Betfair Imperial Cup is worth the same as the County Hurdle and there isn't a single Irish-trained contender to worry about whereas the County Hurdle will be littered with them.

Given that Faivoir is a year older, it might be a blessing in disguise that his connections have been poked in this direction as this race offers a much more winnable opportunity, for all it is still very competitive.

As well as his mark of 136 looking attractive based on that County Hurdle win from last year, there was great encouragement to pull from Faivoir's most recent run in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. Ridden by an inexperienced amateur, he caught the eye back in fifth after not getting the clearest of runs and gave the impression he might be coming back to the boil.

Harry Skelton takes back the ride on him here and that can only be a help to Faivoir. Heavy ground isn't a problem for him, he stays further than this and has the right run style for the race. In short, he ticks plenty of boxes.

His connections might well still be keen to run him at Cheltenham, but finishing second won't be enough here. He needs to win to get a penalty to guarantee him a place in the starting line-up, so that will concentrate the minds of all involved. A big run from him is likely to be forthcoming.

Back Faivoir @ 8/19.00 14:25 Sandown

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