Racing: Arcot looks equal to Olympian task: On a day to keep the powder dry, Imperial Cup punters can avoid getting their fingers burnt

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The Independent Online
YOU almost wonder why they bother. With owners, trainers and punters all preoccupied with the more important business in the Cotswolds next week, the televised cards at Sandown and Chepstow this afternoon can be little more than an irrelevance. Betting money is best saved for the Festival.

Most of it, anyway. The Imperial Cup at Sandown is a contest which deserves scrutiny, and not simply because it is the only one of today's seven televised races which boasts a double-figure field (and that would not necessarily be the case if the sponsors did not offer a pounds 50,000 bonus should today's winner follow up in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham next week).

The Imperial Cup is normally run at a furious pace, which all but guarantees an exciting, fluctuating battle to the line as the leaders tire up the Sandown hill. Today should be no different, with Olympian and Leotard, both confirmed front-runners, in the 14-runner field.

The question is whether anything will have enough energy to pass Olympian, the firm ante-post favourite, on the run-in. Nothing could 12 months ago when Martin Pipe's gelding justified a week- long gamble in this race, making all and pushed out to win by three lengths. That horses such as Spinning and Avro Anson were behind him that day confirms the quality of the form.

Olympian went on to land another gamble in the Coral Cup at the Festival just four days later. Since then he has raced just three times, without success, but performed with considerable promise on his seasonal debut, finishing one and a half lengths third to Dark Honey in a strong handicap. Yet he is now 28lb higher in the weights than when successful a year ago, and it is easy to see something emerging from the pack to snatch the race close home.

But not, perhaps, one of his most immediate rivals in the market. Lemon's Mill, Pipe's second string, is unraced this season and the trainer's knack for producing horses fit first time does not seem as unerring as in previous seasons.

Edimbourg was unbeaten this term until breaking a blood vessel at Kempton last time, and Barton Bank demonstrated only this week that a horse which bleeds once is likely to do so again. Riva, meanwhile, looked temperamental last time. A more convincing opponent for Olympian is ARCOT (nap 4.05). The prevailing heavy ground, which he detests, has restricted Jeremy Glover's gelding to four appearances this season, but he is well handicapped and could run up a sequence now that the ground is drying. He can certainly improve on his fifth place at Doncaster last weekend, his first outing for over two months, when the race was probably not run to suit him.

Inconsistency seems to have been a condition of entry in the subsequent handicap chase, with Repeat The Dose (4.40) perhaps slightly less guilty than his seven opponents. Cabochon (3.30) and Happy Horse (2.55) should also go well at the Esher course.

At Chepstow runners are even harder to come by (a total of 14 in three televised races), though occasional backers do at least get a chance to meet such mundane performers as the hopelessly misnamed Quick Silver Boy. Squire York (1.00) should account for him, and two others, in the opener, while Derrymoyle (next best 2.00) is an interesting runner in the third.

Casual backers may look no further than Relkeel, who represents David Nicholson and Adrian Maguire, but closer inspection shows that Derrymoyle finished fourth in the Ladbroke Hurdle at Leopardstown in January. That form gives him every chance today.

(Photograph omitted)