An excellent pre-Cheltenham card at Sandown to whet the appetite for the week ahead with the Imperial Cup the highlight. However there are some excellent races throughout so all four selections come from the Esher track. Thane of Cawdor (advised 13/2) was a winner in the previous column on Monday.
Sandown 2.05: KNIGHT OF NOIR (6-1 Bet365, Totesport, Betfred)
A clash of some highly promising and in-form novice hurdlers and Knight of Noir looks the cream of the crop.
Too keen for his own good on hurdling debut over 2m6f at Wincanton, he still looked to hold every chance until turning for home when he took a tired fall at the second last. Having been ridden up with the pace that day, he has been ridden with serious restraint since, with spectacular results.
Despite a tendency to run green, he ran out a cosy winner of an Exeter novice in January and beat a very decent field back at Wincanton on heavy going last time in a qualifier for this final. He can be dropped out in this big field with a couple of front-runners likely to ensure a decent gallop and set things up for a qualifier such as him.
2.40 Sandown: CHARTREUX (4-1 general)
Somewhat inconsistent throughout his career, Chartreux’s form figures this season are hardly awe inspiring but he would surely have won at Kempton last time but for falling three out and he gain can compensation at Sandown today.
That was a massive improvement on his first three starts of this term where he made no show, but all three came on left-handed tracks and his record going right is far more promising reading F41122F (would have won both times that he fell).
The handicapper has left his mark of 128 alone from his Kempton run and he is a strong stayer at this 3m trip who goes on any going so it looks worth chancing that he can reproduce his best form again today in a race that does not seem to have any unexposed types involved.
Sandown 3.15: VIBRATO VALTAT (7-2 general)
A horse I have marked out for some time as an ideal type for one of these big 2m handicap hurdles, Vibrato Valtat gets his first chance to shine in this sphere in today’s Imperial Cup.
His win record is poor for a horse of his talent, winning a bumper in his native France, and he finally landed his first win in this country at Exeter at the eighth attempt last time out. However he is a definite improver and has been leaving last season’s moderate performances well behind. His first run of this winter was in the novice handicap at the Cheltenham Open fixture and that was where I first marked him down as a potential useful handicapper, travelling well before fading into fifth.
Made favourite for his next run at Sandown, it might have been initially disappointing that he was run out of it by Vaniteux late on. However that rival is a leading contender (and my fancy) for the Supreme on Tuesday. He was nodded on the line at Kempton after travelling smoothly throughout (perhaps hitting the front too soon) and Daryl Jacob was at pains to restrain him for as long as possible at Exeter last time where he pulled clear in the final few strides over Tiqris. That horse franked the form when looking like a winner at Newbury last week before getting brought down. In this biggish field Jacob will take his time and can afford to delay his challenge until after the last on this uphill finish.
Sandown 5.00: AACHEN (5-1 general)
Very lightly raced for a 10yo Aachen is enjoying a profitable first season over fences, winning two of his four starts this term and should appreciate a return to 2m4f today.
He made a spectacular start to his career in Britain, winning on his first three starts as a hurdler in 2009, but he was clobbered by the handicapper as a result and the best he could manage over the smaller obstacles thereafter was a couple of third placings at Cheltenham over 2m1f.
However he made an excellent start to his chasing career when beating Kasbadali (a runner earlier on the card) over 3m at Towcester in June. He also won a veterans chase over course and distance last month from just a 3lb lower mark to confirm a real aptitude for chasing. There were excuses for his two defeats either side of that run, as he appeared to fail to stay 3m on each occasion. All five of his British wins have come on a right-handed track so this return to Sandown is a positive.
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