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Champ can take Imperial prize

Champ can take Imperial prize

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The calm before the storm. Whilst all talk has now started to centre on Cheltenham and Tuesday, there is one more Saturday to be completed before we get there!

With it, as is traditional, comes the Imperial Cup at Sandown as the centrepiece.

Not since Gaspara in 2007 has any horse managed to win the Sandown contest and go on to the Cotswolds and win again, that runner having come from the Pond House yard of David Pipe.

The Pipe name is synonymous with the Imperial Cup, as David’s legendary father Martin having won on six occasions. The former is halfway to matching that tally already and has another live contender in Friday Night Light, trading at 8/1 to score under Tom Scudamore this time around.

Instead, however, I’m going to side with champion jockey Richard Johnson to land the prize on Master Of Irony.

John Quinn’s charge left a nice impression when scoring at Wetherby in October under Johnson and wasn’t suited by the tactical nature of the Gerry Feilden at Newbury in December.

Davy Russell was on board there and, having been outpaced three from home, Master Of Irony really got going in the closing stages and was finishing better than anything.

There’s likely to be a more even gallop at Sandown and, at 11/1 off the same mark of 133, Johnson should get a good tune from the lightly-raced six-year-old.

Earlier on the card comes the Grade 3 Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final (13:50) where the Skelton brothers are fancied to land the spoils with 5/1 chance Al Shahir.

He made all to win at Towcester when last spotted in December and has likely been saved for this race since. He looks to be on a fair handicap mark and is in good hands, with trainer Dan and brother Harry riding.

Prior to his Towcester win, Al Shahir had chased home the useful mare Maria’s Benefit and subsequent Betfair Hurdle winner Kalashnikov. That form reads well and there must be a decent chance he’ll leave an opening handicap mark of 127 well behind before long.

An each-way double on the pair might hopefully send us into Cheltenham with a little bit more spring in our steps!

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Enda McElhinney Our racing expert, Enda studies cards in both England and Ireland on a daily basis and knows all the details you need to know when trying to select a winner. He is also a regular football writer and has strong knowledge of the Scottish game, with golf another specialised sport on his CV.