Fiulin can dash Irish raiders' ambitions
With the start of the Cheltenham Festival just three days away, the JP McManus-owned Prince Of Fire and Alpine Eagle will look to land an early blow for the Irish raiders when they tackle the Paddy Power Imperial Cup at Sandown this afternoon.
Alpine Eagle, which represents the Jessica Harrington stable, is the choice of Tony McCoy, while the Charlie Swan-trained Prince Of Fire will be partnered by David Casey.
On their runs in the MCR Hurdle in January, when Alpine Eagle faded from the last to be beaten just eight lengths and Prince Of Fire hardly raised a gallop, Alpine Eagle might be expected have the better chance of the two.
However, Prince Of Fire is much less exposed, with just five career starts over flights compared to Alpine Eagle's 14. He will love today's better going, and it's of note that he was a fair sixth on his penultimate hurdling outing behind Dorset Square on good ground at Punchestown in April. At 16/1, Prince Of Fire is not to be underestimated.
That said, Evan Williams' Fiulin can be backed at the same price, and looks absolutely thrown in on his handicap debut off 10st 7lb for a rating of 130. A son of Galileo, Fiulin has run just four times over hurdles, finishing seventh to Menorah on his second start in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle 12 months ago.
On his reappearance at Cheltenham this term, having set a strong early gallop, he was beaten into second by King Of The Night. The winner has since scored again for Paul Nicholls, while the form of Fiulin's most recent outing is even more impressive.
On that occasion, he ran an excellent third behind Dunraven Storm and Recession Proof at Ascot in October. The victor, although disappointing last time, subsequently finished second to this year's Supreme Novices' favourite Cue Card, and the runner-up is since unbeaten in three, just hanging on in the Tote Gold Trophy most recently.
Williams has clearly opted to keep his powder dry until now, and punters could do worse than back Fiulin to double up at Cheltenham next week, where he is entered in an array of contests. David Pipe, the last man to complete the Sandown-Cheltenham double with Gaspara in 2007, also has a chance today with Arrayan, but that one is too short at 6/1, given that he has gone up 38lbs in two months.
The opening EBF National Hunt Novices' Handicap Hurdle Final is another informative handicap. Pipe is again well represented here, with Dynaste bringing some smart form to the table, having finished second to Aegean Dawn at Cheltenham in November before beating the useful Organisateur the following month.
With top weight of 11st 12lb today, though, Dynaste is going to face a mighty challenge, and it may pay to take him on with Ruby Walsh's mount The Reformer. A son of Pilsudski, The Reformer has just one win to his name from three hurdling starts, but his latest effort promised plenty.
Having won at Exeter in December, Paul Nicholls's six-year-old turned out at Kempton the following month, and lost little in defeat when third to Chablais and Sybarite, two decent horses. The Reformer was conceding 6lb that day, so he will be a different proposition in this company today off just 10st 12lb.
Walsh can bag a quick double in the following handicap. Circus Of Dreams should go well here for Oliver Sherwood and Leighton Aspell, but Mon Parrain catches the eye on his British debut for Walsh and Nicholls. He has shown useful form over fences in France, and has scope to improve off a mark of 133 at just five years of age.
In the Listed fillies' bumper, Baby Shine is a speculative selection in what looks a typically high-quality renewal.
Nick Williams' Swincombe Flame certainly made a big impression on her debut at Warwick a fortnight ago, but Baby Shine has already won under a penalty, which is always a good sign. Having landed a point-to-point on her debut at Kilsheelan in October, she won't be stopping up the Sandown hill.
Best bet: Fiulin