McManus can win Cup with Hobbs' Measure
Geraghty takes over on rapidly improving novice
There will be no cash bonus to be had if today's Close Brothers Imperial Cup winner follows up at Cheltenham next week and it is possible that has detracted a little from the Sandown feature.
It must be a long time since the prestigious handicap hurdle took place without a runner from the Pipe, Henderson, O'Neill or Nicholls stables.
However, none of the above quartet are represented in today's two-miler, which looks a decent edition of the £70,000 (€90,000)affair without being a vintage one.
Heading the market is Affaire D'Honneur, which was last seen running an encouraging fourth behind Agrapart in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. Off jut a pound higher rating, Harry Whittington's five-year-old must have a live chance.
At the same time, given that he is trading at odds of around 7/2 in such a competitive race, he doesn't appeal.
After five hurdle starts, he is still a maiden so he is not hard to pass over.
Oliver Sherwood's Rayvin Black is one of five that brings winning form to the table. Crucially, his presence at the top of the page keeps the weights down for the rest.
There is a gap of a stone to the next horse, Philip Hobbs' Allee Bleue. The mount of Richard Johnson, Allee Bleue is one of a number of novices on duty.
He has won his last two starts, though there must be a doubt as to whether he is quite good enough to concede weight to 13 others at this stage of his career.
Johnson has won twice on Hobbs's other runner, the JP McManus-owned For Good Measure, and the suspicion is that he might prefer to be on him.
As it is, Barry Geraghty takes over, and the Ratoath man may be on a horse capable of securing him a second win in the race.
A five-year-old son of King's Theatre, For Good Measure only made its debut in a Ludlow bumper this time last year. He was beaten 16 lengths into sixth then and ran similarly modestly on three subsequent hurdle outings. For Good Measure then made its handicap debut at Uttoxeter in December, when he looked a different horse.
Off a mark of 113, he dotted up, before confirming the impression that he was well treated by again scoring at his leisure under a seven-pound penalty at Exeter.
He hasn't been seen since that December 17 outing, and he gets in here off 130 for just 10st 7lb; he should take plenty of beating.
Granted, For Good Measure's form doesn't read that hot, but the facile manner of his victories is impossible to ignore.
He is clearly progressing and has the scope to improve well beyond his rating, so odds of 6/1 about him securing Hobbs a third Imperial Cup triumph look fair.
The card's Listed mares' bumper is always an interesting contest and this year's is no different.
Hobbs and Johnson combine for the well-bred Copper Kay, a cracking individual that has won three of her four starts, including a similar event when last seen at Cheltenham in November.
She could prove a formidable rival, but she was beaten in this last year, and she must concede a penalty this time. Dermot McLoughlin's Avellino also makes the journey from Ratoath.
Beaten only by the undefeated Lucky Pass on her Fairyhouse bow in November, Avellino has since won twice. While the form of her latest win at her local track is solid without being spectacular, Noel McParlan's mount won with plenty up her sleeve.
Avellino is 7/1 to complete a hat-trick here for the raiders in this and appeals as being overpriced.
Jonjo O'Neill yesterday opted to scratch More Of That from the JLT Novices' Chase at Cheltenham.
The RSA Chase had long looked the favoured target for him but the decision to take him out of the shorter Grade One offered some welcome clarity on the matter.
Notwithstanding More Of That's absence from Thursday's opener, with Douvan scaring off most credible Arkle Trophy rivals, it is shaping up to be a more interesting contest than might sometimes be the case.
Outlander has emerged as a proper horse over the intermediate trip. Unbeaten in three chases, including a Grade One, he could lead a Willie Mullins delegation that might include Black Hercules or Shaneshill.
Those two's best form has come at either end of the trip spectrum. They are shy of the respective market leaders in those divisions but they would add depth to the JLT.
Andrew Lynch's Zabana could be a dark horse and then there is the home defence, which looks pretty strong. Bristol De Mai, also a Grade One victor last time, has developed into a formidable operator, as has Garde Le Victoire.
Clearly, the JLT lacks a real marquee name like Douvan, More Of That or No More Heroes, but it still has the makings of a cracking encounter.