Alarazi can gallop to imperial success
An enduring theme throughout the season is the success posted by novices in competitive handicap hurdles. They have run amok and, sure enough, the jolly for the Paddy Power Imperial Cup (3.0) at Sandown today is from their ranks.
Just as surely, Arrayan hails from the David Pipe stable that habitually lays one out for this race. The sponsors will pay a £75,000 (€87,000) bonus should the winner of today's race follow up at next week's Cheltenham Festival, and Arrayan bids to emulate the hoofprints of Gaspara, which Pipe saddled to complete the double four years ago.
Arrayan's recent progress has been something to behold. Having failed to beat a single horse in two starts on the Flat in France, he needed six runs over hurdles to break his duck. He has since followed up that victory, and would have notched the hat-trick had his jockey not fallen off on the run-in when clear at Taunton last month.
A sting in the tale followed when the handicapper hiked Arrayan's rating by 12lbs even though the horse failed to complete the course. That alone detracts from his prospects, yet of equal concern is that the six-year-old has done all his winning on an easy surface. Quicker ground at Sandown, allied to stiffer competition, make him one to oppose at around 7/1.
Also prominent in the market is Via Galilei, which remains on a fair mark after a recent Newbury victory from more ordinary opposition. However, the former Jim Bolger-trained horse does not find as much under pressure as may be required to win a race of this nature. Prince Of Fire and Alpine Eagle, both owned by JP McManus, travel over from Ireland. The latter brings better credentials and will relish the decent surface, but he too is prone to cutting out when the heat is on.
In the circumstances the best option is Alarazi, which raced promisingly for John Oxx before his transfer to Lucy Wadham's stable.
Alarazi was returned to the Flat after proving intractable on his first two starts over hurdles. He has since tackled timber with pleasing results, notably when just touched off after a final-flight blunder at Cheltenham last time out.
That effort came in a strongly run race and the assured gallop here should allow Dominic Elsworth to settle the headstrong seven-year-old before delivering him late on. He looks attractive at odds of 14/1.