Imperial Commander can set the gold standard for Festival trials

 

However disfiguring and dispiriting its latest corruption case, British horseracing could hardly contrive a better distraction than is likely to be prised from winter's grip at Cheltenham tomorrow. True, the course must still pass a dawn inspection, but the groundstaff's hard work in clearing snow from the frost blankets is expected to pay off with as good a card of jump racing as has been staged this winter.

The Festival trials card is reinforced by the Victor Chandler Chase, salvaged from Ascot last weekend, albeit the presence of the mesmerising Sprinter Sacre (1.50) is likely to yield the least competitive race of the day. A forecast wager on Somersby is recommended for any who demand still more stimulation than can be provided by the most spectacular chaser in training.

One caveat that extends through the card is that conditions are likely to be very dead, after congealing under the blankets for over a week. And further uncertainty infects the Argento Chase, already shorn of one favourite in Bobs Worth and not certain to retain another, with Tidal Bay reckoned "50-50" to line up after being declared today – though Paul Nicholls reported him responding positively to treatment for pus in a foot.

The champion trainer has been masterly in his rejuvenation of Tidal Bay, whose late charge is tailor-made to cut down tiring front-runners on this hill, in particular. But he has a penalty for doing just that in a Grade One at Leopardstown last time, and must give 10lb to a past Gold Cup winner. Clearly, Imperial Commander (2.25) requires a leap of faith, sidelined by various problems for 22 months, but he has a history of going extremely well fresh and in his pomp was good enough even to break up the epoch-making rivalry of Kauto Star and Denman. He will look absurdly good value if remotely near his best.

Grands Crus travelled well for a long way in the King George, but has yet to convince as a thorough stayer, and the each-way value could be Cape Tribulation. He is entering his prime, and matched his improvement over hurdles last spring when switched back to fences for an authoritative success at Wetherby on Boxing Day.

The Rewards4Racing Cleeve Hurdle permits Oscar Whisky to settle once and for all the debate over his best trip. He seemed not to get home when tried against Big Buck's in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle last year, but injury to the champion has tempted connections to test the water again. At the odds, the ball is very much in his court and for now the value sooner concerns a couple of rivals who, like Big Buck's, have reverted to timber from steeplechasing. Kauto Stone is one, but Reve De Sivola (3.35) laid down a really persuasive marker at Ascot.

There are also significant Festival rehearsals in a couple of novice divisions over timber, too full of improvers to permit any dogmatic view. That even applies to the Neptune Investments Hurdle, with just five runners, but something has to give and The New One (3.00) could well complete a massive 40 minutes or so for the Imperial Commander stable.

Even the handicaps are likely to prove very instructive with March in mind, not least with Bold Sir Brian (1.15) making his first visit to Cheltenham. The Scottish raider must raise his game afresh but has been brought along with exemplary patience, and an entry for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup itself suggests that he has not yet reached the ceiling of his improvement. He faces another improver in Katenko, but backers may find an undue southern bias inflating the odds in their favour.

Important Festival signposts must also be deciphered over the weekend at Leopardstown, albeit Arvika Ligeonniere faces just two rivals today in polishing his claims as Ireland's leading candidate for the Racing Post Arkle Chase. Tomorrow his stablemate Hurricane Fly can be expected to extend his prolific Grade One record against the reappearing Binocular in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle. He looks right back to his best this season. Hurricane Fly's trainer, Willie Mullins, marshalling another formidable cavalry for the Festival, also saddles one of his top novice hurdlers earlier on the card, in Pont Alexandre. After the famine, the feast.

Chris McGrath's nap

My Own Way Home (1.25 Lingfield)

Next best

Speed Steed (2.50 Wolverhampton)

News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
sportColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Life and Style
News to me: family events were recorded in the personal columns
techFamily events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped that
News
news
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
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

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Graduate Sustainability Professional

Flexible, depending on experience: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: T...

Programme Director - Conduct Risk - London

£850 - £950 per day: Orgtel: Programme Director - Conduct Risk - Banking - £85...

Project Coordinator/Order Entry, SC Clear

£100 - £110 per day: Orgtel: Project Coordinator/Order Entry Hampshire

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn