With only 5 animals older than seven collecting in the last 70 years, this is definitely a heat for the less exposed, younger horse. In recent renewals weight has also played it’s part, as only one winner, (the now sadly departed London Prize in 2017) has carried more than 10-13 in the last 15 years. The Pipe family have an outstanding record in the race, with dad, Martin, leading up the winner six times and son David three. They have also managed to land the bonus, (£100,000 last year, on offer to any animal who wins a race at The Cheltenham Festival the following week) on three occasions, all of which has to make this year’s sole representative from Pond House, Extra Mag, of particular interest.
A 5yo son of the successful NH stallion, Kapgarde, Extra Mag has only been on a racecourse 4 times, and has quite an impressive 50% record. He won a modest maiden on the flat in the French Provinces before coming to Pond House last November.
He made his British debut in a Wetherby Novices the same month, where, despite starting as an unfancied 14/1 shot, he had the race firmly in his grasp when unseating at the last. He made amends next time, despite some sticky jumping, and another stumble at the last, he comfortably won an Exeter Novices. Sent off the 6/4 joint Fav at Kempton six weeks ago, he had no answer to the Henderson trained, other co favourite, Precious Cargo,(Rec 7lbs) and was beaten by 3 1/4L. However, he did do enough to get into Saturday’s contest on the attractive mark of 132, leaving him on bottom weight of 10-0, (assuming top weight Call Me Lord takes up the engagement). With multiple entries for the 5yo at next weeks Festival, Family Pipe may just be dreaming of landing that bonus for a 4th time.
Nicky Henderson’s Top Weight, Call Me Lord, was only beaten a neck in last year’s renewal off a mark of 152, and has a tough looking task this time off an 8lbs higher mark. He did however earn that higher mark with a convincing win in a Sandown Grade2 over 5 1/2f further next time, beating Lil Rockerfeller by 16L. He made his seasonal debut in Ascots Grade1 JLT over 3m1/2f, and it looks as if connections feel that his future lies over staying trips, so Mr Henderson’s best chance of landing a second Imperial Cup, (won with the 6yo Daves Dream in 2009) would seem to lie with his second runner, another 6yo, Dream Du Grand Val.
Ex French, the 6yo failed to catch the judges eye in any of his 6 races over hurdles in his home country (placed three times) but since joining the Seven Barrows operation has won two of his three starts. Making his debut for the yard at Cheltenham in November, he put in a decent enough effort, finishing a respectable 6/20, despite taking a pretty strong hold, and some indifferent jumping. He was again pretty keen 72 days later when winning at Fontwell, but then had little difficulty landing the odds At Kelso last time, where he had the 119 rated Point Break (rec6lbs) 14L back in 3rd. His mark of 139 at the weekend, giving him a racing weight of 10-5, (so long as stable companion Call Me Lord stays in) looks very fair, and with entries in The County Hurdle and The Martin Pipe at The Festival, Dream Du Grand Val, (as low as 14/1 for The County) could be another with one eye on that bonus.
The Jane Williams trained Monsieur Lecoq has a very progressive profile, and following a pretty impressive performance over course and distance last time, deserves his place at the top of Saturday’s market. Making his handicap debut on a mark of 122, the 5yo took it up before the 2nd last, after which the result was never in doubt, and the son of Diamond Boy, won by 9L from the 128 rated, Our Merlin, and had the 135 rated, Eragon De Chanay a further 8L back in 3rd. Saturday’s mark of 132, putting him on 10-0 (2lbs out of the handicap) looks very fair, and Lizzie Kelly’s 3lbs allowance will be an added bonus.
The Kim Bailey trained 7yo, First Flow, hasn’t been on a racecourse since being pulled up in last year’s Supreme Novices at The Festival, but had impressed in his previous race, when winning Haydock’s Grade2, Rossington Main Novices Hurdle by 10l from the now rated 157 Midnight Shadow, (2mHeavy). A strict interpretation of that form would make him look thrown in on Saturday’s mark of 148, (the runner up has since improved) but nevertheless, he does look attractively weighted on 10-10 particularly if the ground turns heavy and the stable is in good form.
Harry Fry has done well with the ex flat racer, Winston C who has won 2 of his 3 starts over hurdles for the Dorset trainer, including last time, when winning a Class3 Novices over Saturday’s course and distance 5 weeks ago. There is nothing special about the form but he was giving the now rated 129 runner up 6lbs and with his talented trainer in form is worth considering.
The Fergal O’Brien trained 6yo Benny’s Bridge made his handicap debut a winning one when coming home 2 3/4L clear of Flash Of Steel in a Cheltenham Class2 6 weeks ago. The form has worked out quite well and even from 8lbs out of the handicap, if getting a run, (needs 2 above him to come out) could be interesting, particularly as there seems to be plenty of support for him in the Markets.
Selection: Monsieur Lecoq
EW. : Extra Mag, Dream Du Grand Val