It is rather like preparing for a bout with one Klitschko brother by sparring with the other. Certainly, the Paddy Power Imperial Cup at Sandown tomorrow represents a genuine aperitif to Cheltenham – not just for the winner, who will receive a £75,000 bonus if following up at the Festival, but also for punters, who get an alarming foretaste of the handicaps they must solve next week.
Their first choice is between some unexposed but inexperienced novices, or rivals with less potential but perhaps better equipped for this kind of hurly-burly.
A chance is taken on Arnaud (3.15), who ran a cracker when a close fifth at 50-1 in the Fred Winter at the Festival last year – the only time in his career he has had a big field and strong gallop. He has since been pottering around in small fields and pretty smart company back in Ireland, and will have been reliably primed by his trainer.
Barrakilla (2.05) can likewise only be a wary pick against so many other improvers in the EBF Final, but the rapid advent of a new Flat season after the Festival awakens interest in Strictly Silver (2.55) in the William Hill Lincoln Trial at Wolverhampton.
The David Pipe-trained Grands Crus has been ruled out of the Festival after an unsatisfactory scope.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Majestic Bull (4.15 Chepstow)
Shariyan (4.00 Ayr)