The final Saturday before Cheltenham sees action from Sandown as well as Wolverhampton and here are Nick Luck’s fancies.


SAM BARTON gets the nod in Sandown’s EBF Final (1.50pm), which kicks off a terrific pre-Cheltenham card on ITV on Saturday afternoon. This is a race loaded with potential improvers, but the selection comes from a yard that has had a good time of it lately, and he made a large step forward at Doncaster last time. To my eye, he travelled like a very smart horse in the making, and he won’t mind if the ground rides quite testing. He’s priced at 12/1.

MICK MAESTRO can confirm the abilities of trainer Nick Kent by landing the Imperial Cup (2.25pm). A rapid improver for this stable at the beginning of the season, this pacey horse seemed to plateau at Market Rasen last time. That said, it was his first run after a short break and he seemed to run accordingly, having moved powerfully through much of the race. Outside favourite Natural History and possibly Hasanabad, there aren’t too many that haven’t shown their full hand to the handicapper, and I think Mick Maestro represents solid each-way value at 12/1.

In a warm mares’ bumper (3.00pm), I’m taking a chance with CODE NAME LISE, who is quite a substantial type and who handled testing ground very well at Ascot last time. She needs to step forward again, but is open to more improvement and – with Rainyday Woman dominating the market – is a fair each-way price AT 12/1.

UP THE STRAIGHT (17/2) has spent a lot of this season knocking heads with some really smart horses and has often run with great credit. He faces a slightly lesser group in the Listed handicap chase (3.45pm), and he looks very fairly treated. In an ideal world, I’d like to see the ground dry up a fraction for him, but the race fits him very well in all other respects.


BELLE ANGLAISE is a pretty nutty pick for the Lady Wulfruna at Wolverhampton (2.05pm), but hear me out. On ratings, she has no chance at all, but while I reckon I know exactly how good most of the others are, this filly is open to quite a lot of improvement. With this stable as a progressive two-year-old, she could realistically have been expected to cut it at this level as an older horse, but rather marked time when trained in Germany last year. Back with Stuart Williams, getting black type is clearly a priority for this homebred, so I don’t think they’ll mind about her mark. More pertinently, she ran extraordinarily well over an inadequate five furlongs in a Listed race behind Lord Riddiford the other day. That suggested to me that she is way better than her mark, and the step back up to seven furlongs will suit. At a huge 33/1, a small interest each-way is advised.

THE GILL BROTHERS makes some appeal at 10/1 in the next race (2.40pm) for the same stable. Freshness could well be an angle here as he has run really well off a layoff on three occasions. He never really went on after a promising start last year, but the slate is clean and his mark is now a fair one. The booking of the outstanding Callum Rodriguez – who has been impressing many a shrewd observer in the North – looks a big plus.

ZARZYNI is quite an interesting runner at 9/1 on his first start for David Barron later in the afternoon (3.15pm). There was a real ‘curate’s egg’ look to his form last season, but there was enough evidence that the ability was still there. I am not sure the seven-furlong experiment really worked – he is probably more of a sprinter that wants a pace to run at, which he should get here, and his stable have always played to the strengths of this type of horse.

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