Rain no pain for Mr Mole bid

Rain-softened ground at Sandown has increased confidence behind Mr Mole’s bid for Paddy Power Imperial Cup glory today.

Rain no pain for Mr Mole bid

The lightly-raced five-year-old has been the talking horse leading up to the famous handicap and represents the champion duo of Paul Nicholls and Tony McCoy.

Carrying the colours of JP McManus, the gelding was a ready winner at Taunton last month and beat subsequent Grade One winner Melodic Rendezvous in October.

Although a valuable contest in its own right, an enduring appeal of this weekend’s race is the additional £75,000 on offer from the sponsors should the winner follow up in any race at the Cheltenham Festival, and Mr Mole does hold an entry in Friday’s Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle.

Nicholls said: “Now it is raining I am a lot happier. He won last time at Taunton on heavy. I was just a bit negative earlier on in the week over that trip on quicker ground, which is why I also entered him in the EBF race.

“He is a real raw baby, so we will have to see (about Cheltenham) – let’s get today out of the way first.”

McCoy said: “I questioned his resolution a bit at Wincanton (when second), but he was better at Taunton.

“It’ll be a big field and a competitive handicap, so he’ll need to be on his A-game.”

Jonjo O’Neill is keeping his fingers crossed Tominator’s jumping stands up to the test as he aims to secure his first major prize over obstacles.

Winner of the 2011 Northumberland Plate at Newcastle when trained by Reg Hollinshead, the six-year-old made an excellent start to life with O’Neill by finishing third in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket in October.

Although he has won twice from three starts over hurdles since, his jumping has not been foot-perfect and O’Neill is hoping the grey can continue to improve in that department.

“He’s in good old form and has schooled well since his last run, so we’ll see how we get on,” said the Jackdaws Castle handler.

“We all know he’s been a bit novicey, but he jumped a bit better on his last run and these are the races he’s capable of running in.

“If he can get into a bit of a rhythm early on and things went right for him, hopefully he’ll run a nice race.”

Tominator holds entries in the Coral Cup, the County Hurdle and the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park, but O’Neill is refusing to look that far.

“I’d love the (bonus) money, but he wouldn’t even get in at Cheltenham at the moment, so there’s no point in thinking about it. Let’s see how he goes first,” he said.

Emma Lavelle retains faith in Claret Cloak, who was ultimately well beaten behind My Tent Or Yours in last month’s Betfair Hurdle.

Lavelle said: “He’s certainly got a race like this in him, I’m sure of that.

“We’ve left him in the County Hurdle because were he to win this weekend and he didn’t have an option at Cheltenham to chase the bonus, we’d never forgive ourselves.

“If he wins, we’d probably have a go.”

David Pipe sent out Gaspara to land the Imperial-Fred Winter double in 2007 and this year’s representatives are Kazlian and top-weight Tanerko Emery.

Owner Dai Walters said of the latter, who has three Cheltenham entries: “He’s carrying top weight (11st 12lb) but he’s improved and I think he should run quite well.

“If he were to run well, I would definitely be thinking about Cheltenham and if he wins, there is a bonus and you’d have to go for it.”

Last year’s winner Paintball is only 1lb higher in the weights than 12 months ago following a disappointing run of form.

Trainer Charlie Longsdon said: “He’s had another wind operation and we just have to hope it has done the trick.

“Obviously, if he comes back to the form of a year ago, he has a great chance. We’ll just have to keep our fingers crossed.”

The only Irish representative in the extended two-mile contest is the Charles Byrnes-trained Arnaud, with champion jockey Davy Russell travelling over for the ride.

Byrnes said: “I hope he’ll run well, but I am a bit worried about the ground.

“We came over for better ground. I’ve had a walk round the track and while it’s not too bad at the moment, it wouldn’t take much rain to turn it soft and there is a lot of rain forecast.”

Nicky Henderson’s General Miller is well handicapped on his best form.

His owner, Henry Ponsonby, said: “I would have thought he would have a massive chance, but the rain is a worry.

“This race has been the plan for some months, but ideally we would have liked good ground.”

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