Pine Creek can reign in Imperial Cup
Charles Byrnes saddles Arnaud in the Imperial Cup at Sandown today in a bid to plunder a first Irish victory since Victram clung on for Ado McGuinness and Andrew Lynch in 2006.
Knowing Byrnes' renowned expediency at laying one out for a handicap coup, Arnaud's presence alone in the prestigious Paddy Power-sponsored contest is significant and the fact Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud ownership vehicle tends not to target this sort of race also makes the venture noteworthy.
Equally telling is that Davy Russell has opted to forfeit the day's domestic card at Gowran Park to ride the five-year-old.
As ever, the valuable two-mile showpiece is immensely competitive, with JP McManus' Paul Nicholls-trained Mr Mole heading the market at around 7/2, the sort of odds that compel you to look elsewhere.
Up 13lbs for cantering in on his handicap debut at Taunton, AP McCoy's mount is not without his quirks, the sort that probably cost him victory when he tried to run out at the last two flights when second to Kings Lad at Wincanton previously.
Having beaten leading Supreme Novices' Hurdle candidate Melodic Rendezvous on his Exeter hurdle bow, Mr Mole is clearly smart, but he has little appeal at his current odds under 11st 9lb here.
Arnaud is far more interesting, especially as an each-way option at up to 20/1.
In half a dozen starts over flights last term, the pick of his form was a five-length fifth in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham, when he jumped the last in second only to tire up the hill.
He is just three pounds higher now on 135, an intriguing figure given that he is rated 139 at home.
In the Red Mills Hurdle last time, he tired from the last flight to finish well beaten. However, prior to that, he posted solid efforts in defeat behind Midnight Game and Joxer at Thurles, before splitting Blackstairmountain and Fosters Cross when conceding weight at Cork.
With the additional prospect of setting up a tilt at the £75,000 bonus for following up at Cheltenham next week, Arnaud cannot be ignored at such big odds, but enthusiasm about his win prospects is tempered slightly by his weak finishing, especially on testing ground at a stiff track like Sandown.
The two that appeal most are the novices Tominator and Pine Creek.
A dour winner here in heavy ground last month, Tominator represents Jonjo O'Neill and Dougie Costello. The 2011 Northumberland Plate winner is two from three over flights, and his form received a boost when Leviathan, second here last time, went on to win at Plumpton.
At 9/1, he is value for a place off a first-time mark of 130 for 11st 1lb, but Pine Creek is preferred for the win off the same weight.
Denis O'Regan's classy Sheikh Mohammed-owned mount was less exposed on the Flat in France, and he has progressed well in three hurdle runs for John Ferguson.
On his second start, a signature confident steer by his Youghal-born rider saw him beat the recent easy winner Irish Buccaneer by an audacious head at Leicester.
At Doncaster next time, O'Regan had to work marginally harder, but the partnership still came a couple of lengths clear of the useful Ubaldo Des Menhies with more than a bit to spare.
Both of those wins came on soft ground and what was most encouraging was the way Pine Creek finished his races so strongly. In what is sure to turn into a real test, that stamina is going to be key, so odds of up to 12/1 look too big about such an exciting prospect.
Later on, Nicholls' Rebel Rebellion is fancied to take the novices' chase under Daryl Jacob. A winner on this card 12 months ago, Rebel Rebellion hasn't run since finishing third to Super Duty at Cheltenham in December, but that is the best form on offer in this two-miler.
Up at Ayr, Colm Murphy's in-form hurdler Shariyan is among half a dozen raiders on duty.
The one that might be worth keeping on side, though, is James Lambe's Eddie O'Connell-ridden Predateur in the two-mile handicap chase, as the one-time Nicholls inmate looked to be travelling ominously well before unseating four-out at the same track a fortnight ago.
Best Bet: Rebel Rebellion