Falcon can produce flying finish

Veteran may swoop in Imperial Cup to win shot at £75,000 Cheltenham bonus

The phoney war is almost over. While the Festival does not start until Tuesday, its first big prize will be contested at Sandown this afternoon, when the Paddy Power Imperial Cup winner will become eligible for a £75,000 bonus if following up in any race at Cheltenham. The result is a suitably indigestible aperitif for punters preparing for next week's banquet.

Martin and then David Pipe are the only trainers to have won the bonus to date, and their stable had the carpet taken from under its feet when Hunterview missed the cut. He is replaced as favourite by Qaspal, who himself only crept into the race on 10st 3lb. Tony McCoy, whose lowest riding weight over the past year has been 10st 5lb, will presumably do without that second raisin for breakfast.

Since qualifying for a modest rating in novice hurdles, Qaspal has not come off the bridle in two handicap starts and it is impossible to know how much more he might have in hand. But he has been raised 14lb to meet better horses, while dropping back in distance on better ground. So while he could easily bolt up, his true odds must be pure guesswork.

Aather also remains unexposed but hinted at Cheltenham last time that he might prefer a sharper test, while Tocca Ferro needs to brush up his jumping to capitalise on a mark he will surely exceed in time. For all the more progressive types in the field, the veteran Tender Falcon (3.05) seems unfairly neglected at 33-1. The fact is that he remains pretty lightly raced over jumps, and posted a career best when only beaten a neck at Ascot last time, his furious finish suggesting he will be at home on the hill at Sandown.

Some lovely prospects tend to convene for the opener, among which Aberdale (2.0) will surely make giant strides after receiving a pretty indulgent education on his way to a first handicap rating.

Up at Wolverhampton, meanwhile, some decent sport reminds us that Flat racing on turf resumes very soon after the Festival. This weekend, moreover, both those outstanding American females, Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra, make their reappearance with that big showdown in mind, in Arkansas on 9 April. The unbeaten Zenyatta will be conceding plenty of weight to her rivals at Santa Anita; Rachel Alexandra is opposed by just four in New Orleans.

Over here all eyes remain fixed upon Cheltenham. Binocular completed his remarkable resurrection yesterday when pleasing McCoy sufficiently in his work to be confirmed an intended runner in the Smurfit Champion Hurdle on Tuesday. With the choice of Nicky Henderson's other two runners, Barry Geraghty has stayed loyal to last year's winner, Punjabi, leaving Zaynar to Andrew Tinkler.

"He's a horse that's done it on the big stage," Geraghty reasoned. "More important still, he just gave me the most unbelievable feel at Kempton. I'm sure he is simply a spring horse. My decision should not reflect at all on Zaynar, as I'm sure he'll run a big race. And it's great Andrew rides; he deserves the chance on a well-fancied ride in a championship race."

Turf account: Chris McGrath

*Nap

Stormin Exit (2.40 Ayr)

Looks an improved horse for his new stable, a fluent winner switched to fences at Newcastle before losing momentum when hampered two out here last time – in the process looking ripe for a return to this longer trip.

*Next Best

Redford (2.15 Wolverhampton)

Has promised more than he has delivered so far but his new trainer sets him a test, switched to this surface round a bend, that looks sure to play to his strengths.

*One To Watch

Miss Saffron (Mrs S Gardner) had no chance against a thriving rival at Wincanton on Thursday but showed why she was well backed for her handicap debut by beating the rest readily.

*Where The Money's Going

William Hill halved Tocca Ferro from 16-1 to 8-1 for the Paddy Power Imperial Cup today.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own