Saturday’s Imperial Cup (Sandown, 2.25) will, as always, be the final appetite whetstone before the festival. It’s a chance to fill your betting coffers and I’m hoping we can do just that courtesy of Speredek.
He’s 20/1 for this race despite his official mark being 7lbs lower over hurdles and despite a competent 10lbs claimer in the shape of Tom Buckley. He will carry 10.2, the lightest he has borne in his career – three of his last six races have been in grade one or grade two company. All of those have been over fences, and he is much better known as a steeplechaser, a right trailblazer, who ideally needs soft ground, 2 miles, and a right handed track.
The last time he had similar conditions was January last year (going was heavy) and he won a four-horse race by 8 lengths (Sandown). He hasn’t run over hurdles since November 2017 when he was 2nd of 12 to Verdana Blue at Ascot on good to soft in receipt of 3lbs. Ten days prior to that, on soft ground, he won a hurdle race by 15 lengths.
He has everything going for him in the Imperial Cup. He’s uncomplicated in his point and shoot style and although there are other front runners in the race, if Speredek is on his game they’ll be going much too fast if they can pass him early.
The potential downside in backing Speredek is the effect of the heavy fall he took last time at Kempton in the race won by Top Notch. It was over 20 furlongs and he was beginning to tire at the time. It was the first fall of his career and the only time we’ll know how it has affected him is when he meets the first hurdle at Sandown.
At 20/1, I’m more than happy to take the chance that he will be fine and that the fall has left no mental mark on him. He has a fencing entry at the festival – The Grand Annual, a Grade 3 handicap where he will carry 11.9. I suspect that trainer Nigel Hawke has this hurdle race in mind as the perfect confidence restorer as well as the chance to lift a big prize.
You can have 5 places with a number of bookies if you’d rather bet each way here, but I’m taking the approach that he will bounce back from his bad experience or he won’t. If he doesn’t, he could pull up or finish well down the field. If he’s right on form then he ought to win. So, in case he has been affected by the fall, I’ll have 80% of my stake on him and 10% on Monsieur Lecoq at 5/1, and the other 10% on Sandown specialist Call Me Lord at 8/1.
I like Monsieur Lecoq because he’s really a steeplechaser in build and action and technique, but has been good enough to cruise home last twice over hurdles. There’s a chance things will happen a bit too quickly for him in this, but soft ground should help. If the going was good, I’d be much less happy backing him at the price.
Call Me Lord has a devilish task in trying to carry 11.12 to victory here, giving at least a stone to every opponent. But he comes alive around Sandown, especially in these conditions. The four best performances of his life have come at Sandown – three wins and a neck second, lumping massive weights in the main.
A win for either of the backups will still be an overall loss in the race, but my initial temptation was to have no backup at all given how well in I believe Speredek to be. We shall see.