With a £75,000 bonus up for grabs from the sponsors should any horse win this weekend’s Paddy Power Imperial Cup and go on to success at next week’s Cheltenham Festival, it’s no surprise that a maximum of 24 runners will face the starter at Sandown.
This race has proved a meal ticket for the Pipe family over the last 10 years with trainer David having saddled Gaspara and Ashkazar to victory and father Martin winning with Polar Red, Korelo and Medison. It shouldn’t come as a sock, therefore, that Master Of Arts figures prominently in the betting for this Listed handicap hurdle, despite a less-than-conventional build up. The seven-year-old hasn’t raced over obstacles since finishing down the field in the 2009 Triumph Hurdle but did race five times on the level at the end of last summer and jockey Tom Scudamore doesn’t believe that fitness will be an issue. “He ran very well first time at Doncaster three years ago and hopefully, with a bit of luck, he’ll go well.” he wrote in his blog earlier this week. Master Of Arts is a best 9/2 with the sponsors and Stan James and currently second choice with punters behind general 7/2 chance Ted Spread.
A very decent stayer on the Flat, the five-year-old is now with champion NH trainer Paul Nicholls and got off the mark on his handicap debut over hurdles when beating another of today’s rivals, Pascha Bere (a general 25/1), at Taunton in January. Having been raised 15lb for that success, he faces no easy trask in this much more competitive race however, though should appreciate the stiff nature of this course. Nicky Henderson saddles Celtus (a general 16/1), First In The Queue (a general 25/1) and Dark Shadow (25/1 with Boylesports and Skybet) but all are worth taking on at this elevated level while there isn’t much to choose between Sire De Grugy (a general 10/1) and Devil To Pay (a general 12/1) on latest Taunton running. Pateese (25/1 with Coral) has struggled since impressing on his reappearance over C&D in November while Chesil Beach Boy may find this company too hot and is also worth opposing at Paddy Power‘s 25/1 but Ile De Re looks dangerously well handicapped.
A winner over 2m on the Flat and very much at home of soft ground, it took a little while for the penny to drop with Ian Williams‘ charge over hurdles but he trotted up in a novice hurdle at Huntingdon in January and stayed on strongly to defy a penalty in a slightly stronger contest over this C&D last month. The handicapper has given him a mark of 124 for that latest victory but that is by no means harsh considering the grey has untapped potential. Take the general 12/1 as he may be a lot shorter on the day if, as expected, the ground cuts up following Friday’s meeting.