Lifestyle choice can bring healthy profit
It is not so much the calm before the storm as a stationary spell in the doldrums. We are all in limbo, desperately treading water when we could do with a healthy following wind to sweep us to Cheltenham.
Today should be all about topping up cash reserves ahead of the four-day fest, yet the action from a punting perspective is moderate. The fact that two all-weather races from Wolverhampton are part of Channel 4 Racing's diet says much about a day when race-planning is at its most unoriginal.
At first glance, the £25,000 mares bumper at Sandown (3.40) only compounds matters until the eye settles on Lifestyle, which is trained by Nicky Henderson. The four-year-old certainly looked the part on her sole outing, when she sauntered to victory at Ffos Las. And the exploits of runner-up Real Treasure, which has since won and been placed over hurdles, lend weight to Lifestyle's claims.
Although the strength of opposition to Lifestyle is hard to gauge, the selection is the sort of horse which should be followed until beaten. She rates the day's best bet on a card of limited opportunities.
The field for the handicap chase (2.30) is so ordinary that Fresh Air And Fun must have prospects of repeating last year's victory even though he has shown little in three runs this term. Encouragement derives from the drying ground, which suits him well, and the rude health of Jonjo O'Neill's string, which was itself in the doldrums for the first half of the season.
Later on the card, Soulard should be supported in the handicap chase (4.50) after his valiant effort in chasing home the well-treated Salut Flo at Doncaster last month.
He is another which thrives on a decent surface.
And finally, Alfie Spinner is worth an interest in the opening novices' handicap hurdle (2.0). He raised his game to win a well-contested event at Newbury last time, in the process leaving the impression that the stiff Sandown finish will suit him admirably.
TAKE TOCCA TO reign at Sandown
Sandown's feature race poses a familiar conundrum in that a herd of unexposed novices dominate the 24-runner field for the Paddy Power Imperial Cup (3.05). It is highly likely that one of Qaspal, Pepe Simo, Aather, Press The Button and Tocca Ferro will prove too well treated for the cast of seasoned hurdlers.
From the latter category, Tender Falcon makes most appeal after his running-on second to Beshabar in a similar race last time.
However, the 10-year-old may struggle to contain Tocca Ferro, which shaped well in a hot contest at Kempton recently. Too free on that occasion to finish his race properly, Tocca Ferro should find plenty of cover in this field. A big run is on the cards.
CHANCE DU ROY THE PICK AT CHEPSTOW
The beginners' chase (3.30) at Chepstow presents Maktu with an ideal opportunity to gain reward for his consistency at a venue where the eight-year-old has always run well.
But the best bet at the Welsh venue is Chance Du Roy in the handicap chase (4.05). He is the default selection on the basis that enthusiasm for each of his opponents is almost impossible to summon.