Racing: Nous Voila ready to launch Pipe on Festival bonus trail
Just three days remain before the punters come clambering out of the trenches, but the artillery bombardment is already underway. Indeed, to all intents and purposes the Cheltenham Festival starts at Sandown today, with a £75,000 bonus offered to the winner of the Sunderlands Imperial Cup if he goes on to take any race in the Cotswolds next week.
Tomorrow, meanwhile, no less a horse than Clan Royal tries to set a positive tone for the week for his owner when he contests a handicap hurdle at Market Rasen. As usual, J P McManus has several fancied runners at the Festival, but none that matches the public following of Clan Royal, already as short as 6-1 favourite for the John Smith's Grand National. Then on Monday several Irish runners at Stratford, just up the road from Cheltenham, will hope to establish a bridgehead for visiting punters.
In the meantime, key strategic decisions remain in the balance. Rumours from behind the lines suggest that the horse whose name sums up the whole Festival, War Of Attrition, will end up in the Totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup. His alternative is the Ryanair Chase, which is sponsored by his owner - though a far more pertinent consideration is whether War Of Attrition would stay the longer trip in the Gold Cup. While William Hill yesterday laid him from 12-1 to 9-1, that is of limited significance since these bets will now be voided if the horse does not run. Even so, it is thought that Mouse Morris is eager to take a chance on his stamina in an open year.
The same firm saw continued support for Commercial Flyer, who was backed for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at 40-1 prior to making his debut over fences at Taunton last month. He is now challenging Our Ben (4-1) for favouritism, down to 9-2 from 11-2, though his lack of experience over fences must be a concern. In fairness, Martin Pipe won an Arkle Trophy for David Johnson with Well Chief off precisely the same preparation.
As it happens, the two men have excellent prospects of earning a crack at the Sunderlands bonus with Nous Voila. It would take some horse to replicate at Cheltenham the form required to win in bad ground at Sandown today, but at least the obvious "sibling" to this race - the County Hurdle - permits the maximum possible recovery period. It remains the very last race of the Festival, which has been extended to a fourth day since Pipe pulled off the double with Olympian in 1993 and Blowing Wind in 1998.
NOUS VOILA (nap, 3.20 Sandown) will duly have an extra 24 hours in which to recover if he makes himself eligible for the bonus today. An easy winner of two novice hurdles earlier in the season, he was tailed off when favourite for his first handicap at Cheltenham in December. But that was one of several disappointments for the yard at the time, and he bounced back with an easy success at Haydock, in the process proving his aptitude for the sort of ground awaiting him today. He then ran a quite extraordinary race over an extra half-mile at Uttoxeter last month.
Ridden by a conditional jockey, he was exposed to a reckless gallop in conditions so exhausting that all the others who pressed the pace were either pulled up or tailed off. Yet he has so much more ability than his present rating that he was still tanking along on the home turn, by which stage the rest of the field had been reduced to clumsy toil.
Two horses eventually emerged from the pack to wear him down, but he still finished a distance clear of the rest. He should take plenty of beating dropped back in distance today under Timmy Murphy. Much his most interesting opponent is Victram.
Lest we forget, Flat racing resumes on turf the week after Cheltenham and the meeting at Wolverhampton is the equivalent of a batsman's session in the nets. Bayeux (2.20) was a useful juvenile who lost his way over longer distances with Godolphin, but a drop in trip has paid off for his new trainer and he looks as though he could still be on a fair mark.
Nap: Nous Voila (Sandown 3.20)
NB: Dhaular Dhar
Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way
Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat
Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down
Latest in Sport
Indian footballer Peter Biaksangzuala dies from spine injury after doing somersault celebration
Liverpool vs Real Madrid: Isco will provide just as great a threat at Anfield as the injured Gareth Bale would have
Angel Di Maria injury: Manchester United sweat over fitness of record signing as he is in danger of missing Chelsea clash
Video: Boxer Vido Loncar brutally assaults referee following defeat
Chelsea vs Maribor player ratings: Cesc Fabregas? Eden Hazard? Didier Drogba? Who was the star of the show at Stamford Bridge?
- 1 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery reports: 'I'm living a more fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 2 Salisbury ranked seventh-best city in the world to visit in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015
- 3 Disney announces new female-led film Moana
- 4 Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 5 Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Jose Manuel Barroso warns David Cameron against making 'historic mistake' over immigration reforms
£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive OTE: SThree: Progressive in Manchester...
£20000 - £22000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chel...
£8 - £9 per hour: Randstad Education Chester: We are currently recruiting for ...
£85 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Primary Teachers- Northwich Ar...