Horses for courses will be one of the themes of Cheltenham Festival week with history consistently showing the importance of course form when it comes to the four most magical days in the racing calendar. That self-same logic applies away from Cheltenham too, a reality that makes Call Me Lord of considerable interest in today’s pre-Cheltenham highlight, the Matchbook Imperial Cup.
In theory, Nicky Henderson’s charge faces a mammoth task given he must concede upwards of a stone to each of his rivals in the Sandown feature. The fact Blowing Wind (1998) is only top weight to oblige since Lanzarote way back in 1973 illustrates the scale of that challenge.
However, Call Me Lord very nearly defied those gloomy stats last year, going down to Mr Antolini, to whom he was giving 25lbs, by a neck, the front two pulling miles clear of the field. That monster effort was his sole defeat in four Sandown starts, his most recent success at the venue coming on the final day of last season when he trashed solid sorts in Lil Rockerfeller and Wholestone by 16 and 22 lengths respectively in a Grade Two contest.
He has only seen action once this season; finishing seventh to Stayers’ Hurdle favourite Paisley Park in the JLT Hurdle on his first start over three miles.
He didn’t stay that day but he was also hampered twice so there were legitimate excuses.
And the fact he was sent off the 7-2 favourite for a Grade One over a trip he hadn’t tackled before suggests connections hold him in the highest regard.
Back at his beloved Sandown, he represents fair each-way value at around 15-2. He is narrowly preferred to the hat-trick-seeking Monsieur Lecoq, who also ticks the course box having begun 2019 with a nine-length victory over Our Merlin.
The European Breeders’ Fund Matchbook VIP “National Hunt” Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final looks ultra-competitive but Hughie Morrison’s Third Wind has won two of his three starts this season and, though this task will be considerably tougher, he may be able to get the job done again.
Paul Nicholls could be set for his most successful Cheltenham in years and the in-form trainer can warm up for the Festival by saddling Silver Forever to victory in the EBF Stallions/TBA Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race. An Irish point-to-point winner, Silver Forever has won two of her three starts for Nicholls, most recently getting the better of Nick Gifford’s debutant Mystic Dreamer by three quarters of a length at Ascot last month. Those two can again fight out the finish today but Silver Forever gets the nod to confirm the form.
The prospect of testing conditions at Sandown heightens interest in the Venetia Williams-trained Commodore in the Matchbook “Best Value Exchange” Handicap Chase.
Commodore showed promises over hurdles on heavy ground last season before undergoing a wind op in the summer. On the evidence of his sole run this season – an impressive six-length victory in a three-mile chase at Warwick on New Year’s Eve – the procedure has brought about significant improvement, an impression he can confirm by following up over the same trip today.
Cheltenham may be just three days away but there’s also some decent all weather fare from Wolverhampton, where the feature is the unracing.co.uk Lincoln Trial Handicap, a race that can go the way of Silver Quartz.
A dual winner for Hugo Palmer last year, Silver Quartz is now with Archie Watson, a trainer with a 23% strike-rate at Wolverhampton since 2015, an impressive percentage that can be boosted today. Elsewhere at Wolverhampton, Richard Hannon’s Oh This Is Us is very hard to oppose in the Listed sunracing.co.uk Lady Wulfruna Stakes. Hopefully he can boost the coffers ahead of next week’s extravaganza.
Call Me Lord (Each-way)
Silver Forever (NB)
Oh This Is Us