Brendan Duke: Achille can show his rivals a clean pair of heels at Sandown

Dukey's dreaming up schemes to make it to Cheltenham next week, but he'll have to make do with Sandown at the weekend by the looks of it ....


The week before Cheltenham. A week to try and relax. Keep stakes to a minimum. Betting tank preservation must take priority. Well, I can never be accused of practicing what I preach. A rare Monday jaunt to Leopardstown was taken. Plans to bolster funds were cruelly undone. I blame the sun. It was at the correct angle to have the second last fence omitted.

Alas, for the horse I backed, the last was still there. With the cosmos seemingly conspiring against me – Noel Edmonds never mentioned this – I searched for salvation.

And lo, it appeared. A man who is probably not really of this Earth. Tiger Woods was playing at his beloved Bay Hill. I backed him, and bounced out of the bookies. Not two hours later, he had withdrawn. A neck strain. Coincidentally, well it was possibly psychosomatic, I developed a serious pain in my arse. Not ideal preparation for next week.

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I reread my blog from this time last year. It soothed me. Contains some nuggets to get you fully geared up for the Festival. A link to that timeless advice is available below.

I’m unable to attend Cheltenham this year. Before accepting the inevitable, get-rich-quick schemes were at the forefront of my mind. A few of them suggest I may yet turn to crime.

I was dog-sitting last weekend. It struck me that the dog was better catered for than his minder. On the third day, I ran out of bread. Quite the oversight from my retainers. The dog was never close to running out of food. Nuts, tuna. All his favourite things, available in abundance. His treat bag had to contain a mixture of three different products.

Wouldn’t want the hound getting bored with rewards I suppose.

While walking him, thinking on my problems, his lack of problems, a thought struck me. Dognapping. Millionaires own dogs too. They are likely just as devoted to their pooches. The problem with kidnapping, aside from obvious moral considerations, is the that were my master plan to come unstuck, a long custodial sentence is probable.

I’m too pretty for prison.

Dognapping on the other hand, would probably just result in a slap on the wrist. It’s only a dog after all. I lure the dog with a choice of three delicious treats. Issue the ransom note. Probably in the form of a musical greeting card. ‘How Much Is That Doggie In The Window’ springs to mind. The ransom note has gone a bit samey in my opinion.

The card would contain the obvious dire warnings. ‘If I get a whiff of the feds, the dog isn’t getting any treats tonight’. That should see the owners stump up the cash. Make the exchange, and off to Cheltenham I go.

Probably haven’t fully thought the logistics through. Will keep as an option for next year.

Funding caveats notwithstanding, a couple catch my eye this weekend. Sandown, particularly the hurdle course, should be ride testing on Saturday. The Imperial Cup is too tricky a puzzle for me. The 3.35 pm race appears very competitive too. It’s currently 5/1 the field.

Achille can complete the hat trick. Paddy are of a different mind. They make Strong Pursuit favourite. He was nine lengths behind Achille, over course and distance last time out. However, Philip Hobb’s charge gets an 8lb swing in the weights.

As that was his first run for well over a year, it’s reasonable to expect things to be a lot closer this time. Achille seems to have put his physical issues behind him. His consistent, progressive form stands up to scrutiny. He’s an accurate jumper, and looks to relish a stamina test. I’ll take him to confirm the form on Saturday.

The only wrinkle is an alternative entry next Monday. I’d be shocked if he didn’t turn up at Sandown. However, Saturday’s race will attract a decent-sized field. His price shouldn’t contract all that much. Anything around 5/1 would be acceptable after declarations are made on Friday.

The Mares Bumper at 3pm features another rematch. This time I’m betting on the vanquished. Silver Forever and Mystic Dreamer fought out a good finish at Ascot. That was Mystic Dreamer’s debut, and Silver Forever’s greater experience was probably decisive. I would be reasonably confident that the second would reverse the form on the same terms. That isn’t the case on Saturday though.

Silver Forever is 4lbs better off. However, Mystic Dreamer is over twice the price. This race will be run on borderline heavy ground. Both mares boast pedigrees that scream ‘softer the better’. Expect them to fight out another close finish on Saturday. At 6/1, I will back Mystic Dreamer each-way. Again I’d expect the entries to hold up in this race. Back her after decs tomorrow.

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What do you think?