Build up Festival bank with each-way punt on Claret Cloak
THE term 'last chance saloon' is said to come from 19th century America, where the sale of alcohol was strictly regulated in certain towns and cities.
Before you entered a dry zone, there was usually a bar near the county border offering travellers their last chance to get inebriated before they moved on to the next town.
In the world of racing, this afternoon's Paddy Power Imperial Cup at Sandown (3.15) is the 'last chance saloon' for those of us looking to build up the betting bank for Cheltenham and, while last year's winner Paintball was somewhat unexpected at 20/1, it's generally been a good race for pre-Festival punting recently, with five of the last 10 renewals all landed by the market leader.
It's hard to fancy Paintball again as he's shown very little in his five runs, since and I'm also concerned about the likely favourite, Mr Mole, which carries the hefty burden of 11st 9lbs off a mark of 138.
True, he won well at Taunton last time, but he's up 12lbs for his trouble. Indeed, we have to go back to 1998 to find a winner (Blowing Wind) carrying that weight or above, so today's topweight Tanerko Emery is also opposed despite the excellent record of the David Pipe yard in this contest.
At 14/1, the Emma Lavelle-trained Claret Cloak looks the each-way pick of the rest provided the rain holds off and the ground doesn't come up too soft.
The six-year-old is still somewhat unexposed and looked quite raw in what was just his fourth start over hurdles in a Listed handicap at Ascot in November, but that turned out to be a career best for the gelding and his third place gave plenty of reason to be optimistic as it was an extremely competitive affair.
He took the step up to Grade Three company last time in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, which was won by Tuesday's Supreme Novice favourite, My Tent Or Yours. But don't let his 13th place of 21 runners put you off as the testing ground was totally unsuitable.
Lavelle had mentioned numerous times beforehand that conditions were far from ideal, and jockey Dominic Elsworth went easy on his mount when it became clear that he hadn't much of a chance.
If he runs anywhere near his Ascot form, he'll be a force to be reckoned with today, but all that said, his trainer's poor run of form lately is a worry.
The last time she saddled a winner was on December 15, even though she's sent out over 60 runners since.
Hopefully, there's nothing seriously wrong in the yard – I suspect it's just one of those periods of bad luck that every trainer goes through now and then.
THE unexposed Guest of Honour has claims in the William Hill Lincoln Trial Handicap (2.55 Wolverhampton) but at 9/2, the Marco Botti-trained colt looks decidedly short in a race where a good case could be made for at least five runners.
Instead, a chance is taken on Hughie Morrison's Nazreef around 8/1 with Joe Fanning doing the steering.
Winner of this race last year, he bounced back to form when second to Docofthebay at Southwell last month and his strong finish was impressive, despite the fact that he hung right in the closing stages.
The handicapper is not doing him any favours, but he may just sneak a place at a decent price.
2.20 Wolverhampton: Regal Parade
2.55 Wolverhampton: Nazreef (e/w)
3.15 Sandown: Claret Cloak (e/w)
3.30 Wolverhampton: Where's Reiley
3.50 Sandown: Tamarina Bay