Teaplanter previews the Imperial Cup card at Sandown and his first bet is the Nicky Henderson trained Divine Spear in the Novices EBF Final.
Nicky Henderson generally targets this race with novices that he cannot see competing at the Cheltenham Festival and can very often gear their season around getting a mark for this final. He has won it twice in recent years with Skint and Close Touch and the campaign of Divine Spear looks to have been carefully planned in order to hide his ability from the handicapper and get a reasonable mark for this contest.
The son of Oscar has not looked a star on his four starts to date, but was green on debut and still looked inexperienced on some of his runs this season. He was well backed on his seasonal debut when he was 2nd to Baoulet Delaroque. The winner has won his next two races in very decent style off marks of 124 and 131 and is now rated 141. Since that run, Divine Spear has been dropped back in trip to win at Ludlow and then he was beaten under a penalty at Doncaster over the minimum distance. He was outpaced over the final two furlongs in that race, but he was staying on well again in the final 100 yards. He is from a staying family and is a half brother to Thyestes winner Jadanali and provided he can handle what is like to be very gluey ground, he could prove to be a lot better than his current mark of 127.
Two Taffs really caught the eye last time as a horse that would improve a lot for a step up in distance. His 3rd at Kempton behind Zulu Oscar and Affaire D'Honneur was also at a time when the Skelton horses were going through a quiet spell. He has not been missed in the market, but is worth a saver here in a race where not too many really catch the eye.
1.5 points each way Divine Spear at 12/1 with William Hill, BetVictor and Bet365
1 point win Two Taffs at 9/2 with William Hill, BetVictor and Bet365
In 2010 Philp Hobbs had a novice hurdler who had not shown a great deal in maiden hurdles, before he was switched to handicap hurdles. He then won his first easily at Kempton, followed up over 20 furlongs at Sandown and then came into this contest a very heavily backed favourite. The horse was Qaspal and he duly obliged at 11/4 when he stayed on far too strongly up the hill to easily beat his rivals.
6 years later and we nearly have a carbon copy of Qaspal in the shape of For Good Measure. The differences are that he showed next to nothing in his 3 hurdle starts and then in typically JP owned fashion, he found dramatic improvement in handicap hurdles. He hacked up at Uttoxeter off 113 in December and then followed up in easy fashion a week later off 120, or at least it seemed to be easy given that the fog ruined the viewing of the race. He has been put away since that win and now reppears off a 10lb higher mark, but he looks like he could scale much greater heights than this. He is bred to stay very well, but has looked to have plenty of speed on his last two starts and this will be a test of stamina at the trip in the conditions and given the pace scenario. He has multiple entries next week for Cheltenham as well when connections will be bonus chasing and he could he looks worth backing here. Inexperience might be an issue but did not prevent Qaspal obliging and we are hoping for a similar scenario with the new plot on the black.
Our second bet here is Sirop De Menthe as he could still be very well handicapped despite being beaten on his last two starts. He was 2nd off a mark of 128 at this venue two starts ago and last time he was well beaten in the end when 4th to Different Gravy in horrible conditions at Ascot. On both occasions he was given a very aggressive ride, but looked the winner turning in to the straight. However he faltered in the closing stages last time, more so than when battling on well behind Rayvin Black on his penultimate start here. He has been dropped 2lb for Ascot and drops back to what should be a more suitable trip on this ground and if Lucy Gardner can show a little bit of common sense with her pace reading, he should run a big race here and looks worth an interest at 16/1 with Paddy Power.
1.5 points each way For Good Measure at 6/1 with Bet365 and Ladbrokes
1 point each way Sirop De Menthe at 16/1 with Paddy Power
Despite the absence of Augusta Kate in preference for Cheltenham and La Bague Au Roi whp presumably waits for Aintree, this looks a well up to standard renewal of this listed bumper.
Clearly we have to start with Copper Kay who has looked very impressive on her two starts this season. If she repeats her last time out Cheltenham effort, she will be very hard to beat, but she is saddled with a 4lb penalty for that success, this is much softer ground than she encountered last time and despite being a little unlucky in running, she was found out in this contest last season when she was 4th.
Avellino is the Irish hope, but she is a strong travelling mare who was all out last time after looking set to win easily. That form has taken a knock since and we would have preferred her on a flatter track and on slightly better ground.
There is every chance that The Nipper will make this a test and it could be a real slog to the line and one which we think will suit Tearsofclewbay. She won on very bad ground at Uttoxeter prior to winning very nicely last time at Ascot. She travelled very well through that race but took a little time to master Theatre Territory (behind Copper Kay at Cheltenham). However she was coming right away at the end of the contest and a stronger gallop would surely have increased her winning margin. She will get that here and she should be staying on strongly to the line.
We will also have a small interest in Sister Sibyl at the prices. She has plenty to find on form, but she was impressive at Towcester, where it took quite a while for Tom O'Brien to straighten her up so that she could through a gap that presented itself. When she did, she impressed with how easily she put the race to bed and she could just be a very smart mare that is completely unexposed. 18/1 is worth an interest.
1 point each way Tearsofclewbay at 9/1 with Bet365
0.5 points each way Sister Sibyl at 18/1 with Paddy Power, BetVictor and Coral