Joseph O’Brien was making upbeat noises on Friday morning that his Triumph Hurdle favourite Sir Erec – who picked up a stone bruise on Thursday – would face the starter on Friday. The juvenile is considered banker material by many for the Grade 1 contest but was eased to 11/10 (Non Runner No Bet) at BetVictor with stablemate Gardens Of Babylon 8/1 (from 12s) the main mover for the race.
The Imperial Cup at Sandown is the big betting race of the day and it looks a quality renewal of this prestigious handicap hurdle. Monsieur Lecoq has won both starts so far this term including over C&D last time and a 10lbs rise looks fair. He is a couple of pounds wrong at the weights, however, and his 7lbs conditional jockey will not be able to take his weight down to 9st 7lbs. The lightest he has ridden at this season is 9st 12lbs. He is reluctantly overlooked.
My two against the field are First Flow (8/1 with BetVictor) and Solomon Grey (2.25) with marginal preference for the latter who is 14/1 with BetVictor who are betting each way 5 places on the race at 1/5th odds on this 15-runner contest.
First Flow will appreciate the forecast soft ground – further showers forecast on Friday evening – but has been off the track since disappointing in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago. I just favour the Dan Skelton-trained grey who finished runner up at Kempton in the Lanzarote last time so would appreciate a true gallop back at the minimum trip.
I am a big fan of One For Rosie and he – yes, he – must go close in the NH Novices’ Final but he bombed out on his only previous start on soft ground. Olly Murphy saddles three and the biggest price of the trio is Smackwater Jack (1.50) and I hope he can reward each way support at 20/1 (5 places) with BetVictor.
The selection was beaten just over a length by Nicky Henderson’s Before Midnight at Taunton last time but is 10lbs better off with the Lambourn runner if you include Fergus Gregory’s claim. Before Midnight is halve the price of the selection although he also looks open to improvement.
Enola Gay (4.10) is fitted with cheek-pieces for the first time by Venetia Williams and I hope that works the oracle in the Novices’ Handicap Chase. The selection has run well in defeat since switching to the larger obstacles, but connections look to have found a decent opportunity.
Duke Des Champs has dropped to an attractive mark over fences and must go close in the finale, but I hope The Kings Writ (4.45) can return to winning ways having finished fourth in a decent race at Cheltenham last time. Returning to a right-hand track should suit and there is likely to be plenty of pace on which should suit Kayley Woollacott who saddles Lalor in the Arkle on Tuesday – the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.
The Evan Williams yard ended a barren spell when they had a welcome winner at Exeter midweek and I hope Go Long (4.35) can follow up at Hereford in the 2m Handicap Chase. The selection has only had two career starts over fences but won over C&D when last seen in January and is taken to follow up.
There is a terrific 2m Handicap Chase at Ayr and I hope to see Tonto’s Spirit (3.20) make a winning start for Dianne Sayer. The selection ran a good race from the front on his sole previous start over fences for Ken Slack who sadly passed away at the end of February. I would like to see the 7-year-old win for connections. Forest Des Aigles reverts to the minimum trip, but a market move would be worth noting.
Strong Resemblance has been in great form this season and would surely have won but had he not clouted two out at Wetherby last time with the race, seemingly, in the bag. He is 5lbs higher this afternoon and I hope he helps set the race up for Glittering Love (5.00) who has won his last three and can continue to progress for Nicky Richards.