Matt Brocklebank identifies the early value in Saturday's Matchbook Imperial Cup at Sandown in his latest antepost racing column.
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LE PATRIOTE appeared to win with a bit more to spare than the bare margin of a length in last month's Ascot Spring Garden Show Handicap Hurdle and he's fancied to confirm superiority over runner-up Friday Night Light in Saturday's Matchbook Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle (2.25) at Sandown.
They are a progressive pair of hurdlers, each having had just a handful of starts for their respectively handlers, who are both extremely canny operators and could conceivably be eyeing a crack at the £100,000 bonus available to any horse able to win on Saturday and follow up in a race at the Cheltenham Festival next week.
Le Patriote, in the care of in-form trainer Dr Richard Newland and formerly with Marcel Rolland in France, was the latest horse to boost the fantastic form of January's Lanzarote Hurdle won by William Henry, a race in which he travelled smoothly before weakening two out and seemingly paying the price for racing too keenly through the early stages.
In between the Lanzaratote and Ascot Le Patriote went to Cheltenham for the Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle, for which he was a significant market mover and ended up going off the SP favourite at 2/1.
It wasn't to be though he shaped well in fourth behind Remiluc and the first-time application of cheekpieces finally worked the oracle for the six-year-old when sprinting away from a smart field last time.
Watch the race back and you'll see how he cruised throughout under Brian Hughes and while he didn't look particularly straightforward when finding himself in front, it just looked a matter of him still learning his trade and a subsequent 8lb rise looks more than fair.
The front two pulled six lengths away from the third and the form should be treated seriously.
The runner-up is technically weighted to mount a very serious challenge should the rematch materialise (was 1lb out of handicap at Ascot and now 5lb better off), but it looked like the move up to the best part of two and a half miles was the key factor to unlocking the improvement in Friday Night Light and back at the minimum it's hard to see him beating the sweet-travelling Le Patriote.
Newland won the race in 2015 with Ebony Express and the 12/1 available that he repeats the feat looks worth worth mopping up before the weekend.
There is no shortage of bonus-hunters in the potential line-up and they include the classy Call Me Lord, one of two for Nicky Henderson along with general market leader Whatswrongwithyou, and it's a mark of how highly he's held that the former is still in the Unibet Champion Hurdle, as well as the County Hurdle.
Whatswrongwithyou has entries in the County and the Martin Pipe and he is dangerously handicapped from a mark of 139 after sealing back-to-back Newbury novice wins with a nine-length verdict over the 125-rated Rockpoint last time.
Silver Streak enters the reckoning on the form of his excellent second to Hunters Call in the Grade Three Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle over Christmas and he was obviously unable to show his hand in the Betfair Hurdle when unseating Mitch Bastyan at the second.
He looks likely to be among those forcing the pace which is rarely a bad place to be at Sandown providing the tempo isn't too hot, while the returning Highway One O One is another to take seriously despite not being seen in public since Fontwell on Boxing Day.
He was a good thing there but delivered in really good style, though the EBF Final on the same card this weekend looks a more logical target for Chris Gordon's runner.
Posted at 1510 GMT on 05/03/18.