Calipto tipped for a fine day out at Sandown Park
The Imperial Cup is a race which has often included within its sponshorship terms a clause which offers a lucrative bonus for any winner who can then go on to score at the Cheltenham Festival. Introduced by Sunderlands, the scheme was designed to ensure that runners already booked in to compete in either the County Hurdle or Coral Cup didn’t simply swerve Sandown, and to that end it has proved a success, with Martin and David Pipe seeming to target the double almost every year.
Pipe senior won the bonus with Olympian and Blowing Wind, and was instrumental in the success of Gaspara, who added the Fred Winter to her Imperial Cup success in 2007 for son David. Nowadays, the sponsorship has passed to William Hill, but the successful bonus structure remains.
Pipe junior saddles ante-post favourite Bidourey, who like Gaspara, holds a Fred Winter entry, and he’s sure to be well backed given the yard’s record. The worry with the ex-French juvenile is that he’s raced exclusively on soft and heavy ground to date, and with a warm, sunny day expected, may find that the ground is drying up too much for his liking. It’s also interesting to see a tongue strap applied for the first time, and that raises another note of concern. All in all, he’s opposable at current odds.
Calipto is sharing favouritism with Bidourey in some lists, and deserves his place at the top of the market. Strongly fancied in the Betfair Hurdle won by Violet Dancer, he found himself poorly placed having been held up, and shaped considerably better than the distance beaten suggests. He showed considerable promise in his juvenile season, and remains capable of better having had his campaign plotted around the big spring handicaps.
Fascino Rustico wouldn’t have been far behind Calipto at Newbury but for falling, and has a chance of sorts, but his jumping has looked an issue for some time, and going a stride quicker on good ground won’t enhance his chances of an error-free round.
Few maiden hurdlers have been pilloried as much as West Wizard, but the Seven Barrows hype horse may well have the last laugh by breaking his duck in this prestigious event. Beaten at long odds-on in the same novice hurdle for the past two seasons, the gelding was the source of ridicule in some quarters, and he made it three silver medals from as many hurdles runs at the track when outstayed by Minella Rocco last month.
There was a degree of sniggering from the usual sources at his latest eclipse, but a few are coming to realise that, rather than the failure he’s purported to be, West Wizard may just be the victim of some unfortunate coincidences. The races he’s contested have been designed to see him win – run-of-the-mill novice hurdles at midweek meetings – but every time he’s appeared, he’s been unlucky enough to come up against something unexpectedly classy.
First it was Sgt Reckless, then Arzal, and Minella Rocco showed he was an exceptional prospect when waltzing away from his rivals at Newbury last weekend. His opening mark of 132 is very fair on balance, and it would be folly to assume he can’t belatedly live up to his star billing.
Thistlecrack has strong claims if his latest win at Ascot is taken at face value, and he’s very much unexposed, but that success seemed to owe plenty to a canny piece of race riding from Ruby Walsh, and it remains to be seen whether it will prove flattering.
Royal Guardsman is another worth considering at bigger prices, his win at Newbury just a week ago a welcome return to form for the one-time smart bumper performer. He’s long promised such a performance, and the drying ground is very much in his favour, so there’s no reason why he won’t run well again. He has a very high cruising speed, and will be more at home in a well-run race at this trip than some of his rivals.
Unlikely to make the cut for the County Hurdle, he won’t be winning Ali Stronge and the Nock family a lucrative bonus, but he remains the sort to pay his way from a fair mark.
Of those classed as rags, I wouldn’t totally discount Meadowcroft Boy, who was in deep enough water at Kelso last time, but can usually be relied upon to travel sweetly in his races, and may find the contest run to suit his style.
Selection: CALIPTO @ 15/2
Alternative: ROYAL GUARDSMAN @ 26/1
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