Saturday racing: what's on TV and who to watch out for

Gassin Golf (near): clock suggests Imperial Cup runner-up can go one better

Imperial Cup day at Sandown is live on ITV4

 PICTURE:Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos) 

 By Lee Mottershead 6:50PM 10 MAR 2017 

THERE are now only three days to go until the Cheltenham Festival arrives, but you should never wish your life away, so while the biggest part of you gets ever more excited about what happens from Tuesday to Friday, let the rest of you concentrate on the present, which is a Saturday headed by Sandown.

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The traditional pre-Cheltenham weekend highlight is the Imperial Cup, which for the first time since 1985 is broadcast by ITV, albeit not the main channel (the Six Nations understandably wins on this occasion) but ITV4, which did not exist in 1985. The racing begins at 1.30pm, and the Imperial Cup is off at 3pm.

Also back from the past is the £50,000 bonus paid out to the connections of the Imperial Cup winner should their horse go on to triumph in any race at the festival. Sponsors Matchbook will be the ones paying out the bonus if it needs to be paid – but the odds are very much against such a necessity.

Why so negative?

Well, sadly the Imperial Cup, like so many of this season’s major handicap hurdles, has come up well short on numbers, with owners seemingly keener to be predictably balloted out of the County Hurdle than to chase a £39,389 first prize at Sandown.

Only 13 horses – I know, astonishing – have been declared for the grand old race, which 49 years ago was won by the Racing Post’s very own Brough Scott.

Brough won’t win it this year but on Calcutta Cup day another Scot might.

A corny pun is coming next, is it not?

It is indeed.

Alan King, unlikely to be supporting England at Twickenham, runs the well fancied William H Bonney, seeking to give his team a timely boost before the extremely serious stuff begins next week.

Also prominent in the betting is Fixe Le Kap, due to be racing for the first time in 360 days, while London Prize and Bigmartre are other extremely obvious contenders.

Spice Fair, truth be told, is not, but he has been around for yonks and it would be lovely to see him win – not as lovely as it would be to see Cue Card win the Gold Cup, but still lovely.

Doesn’t the Pipe team have a runner?

I was coming to that.

Martin Pipe once had a wonderful record in the Imperial Cup before retiring to spend more time on his bicycle.

Martin Pipe and Tony McCoy

Martin Pipe and AP McCoy: neither man will be winning the Imperial Cup

 PICTURE:Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos) 

The revolutionary trainer sent out six winners of the race – two of which went on to land the Cheltenham bonus – while son, David, is already a triple Imperial Cup holder, with one of his three winners having also bagged the bonus.

The latest Pond House representative is French import Max Do Brazil. As anyone who has been to Galeries Lafayette will know, shopping in France is expensive, as evidenced by a €160,000 purchase price for Max, disappointingly pulled up on his British debut. Owners Caroline Tisdall and Bryan Drew, who probably didn’t keep the receipt, will be hoping for better.

However, even if Max delivers, his chances of getting into a Cheltenham handicap do not look great, particularly in relation to the race named after Martin Pipe, in which he sits 139th in the handicap.

Is there much else going on at Sandown?

The ITV4 team are covering three other races, namely the EBF Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final (1.50), which invariably looks complicated because it is, a 3m handicap chase (2.25) and the mares’ bumper (3.35), whose presence in a TV window probably frustrated Channel 4 Racing bosses and now probably frustrates ITV Racing bosses.

It’s not just Sandown, though, for ITV4 viewers can also enjoy a couple of races from Wolverhampton, which still had grass when ITV signed off from racing in 1985.

These days it has a Holiday Inn, a Tapeta track, a trial for the Lincoln (2.05) and the Listed Lady Wulfruna Stakes (3.15), which features the strongly-fancied Keystroke and the world’s top jockey Ryan Moore, the partner of Naadirr.

It will not, sadly, feature Lady Wulfruna, a famous Staffordshire landowner who died in 1005 and no longer gets out much.

How can I win enough cash to buy lots of land in Staffordshire myself?

The traditional vehicle for doing this, although not in Lady W’s era, is the Scoop6.

With combined rollover pools of £300,000, a single Scoop6 winner could pocket around £400,000, which just before Cheltenham would give you a great chance of doubling up those tricky festival Placepot perms.

The races to solve are: (leg one) 1.50 Sandown, (leg two) 2.05 Wolverhampton, (leg three) 2.25 Sandown, (leg four) 2.40 Wolverhampton, (leg five) 3.00 Sandown, (leg six) 3.15 Wolverhampton.

Whether you’ve won or lost, your Scoop6 experience will be over by the time of ITV4’s last race, meaning you can savour the mares’ bumper (Vroum Vroum Mag the right sex but not permitted) in peace.

 
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