The six-year-old was forced out of the Grade One contest 12 months ago through injury, but made a pleasing return to action in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December. He has not been seen in competitive action since and did suffer a minor training setback around a month ago.
Grandouet was a significant drifter in the Champion Hurdle market on Betfair, with his price matched at 40-1 before stabilising at around the 7-1 mark, but Nicky Henderson did not report any problems after his charge worked in company with fellow Festival-bound stablemates yesterday morning.
Speaking at Sandown, Henderson said: “Grandouet worked on the grass in the fog with Une Artiste and River Maigue. They went a good gallop and it was all good. AP [McCoy] was also down, he rode Binocular, and Barry [Geraghty] schooled Simonsig and Riverside Theatre. They’ve virtually finished everything now.”
With only 72 hours to Cheltenham, there is still some excellent action today and Jonjo O’Neill is keeping his fingers crossed Tominator’s jumping stands up to the test as he aims to secure his first major prize over obstacles in the £70,000 Paddy Power Imperial Cup at Sandown. Winner of the 2011 Northumberland Plate at Newcastle when trained by Reg Hollinshead, the six-year-old made an excellent start to life with O’Neill by finishing third in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket in October. Although he has won twice from three starts over hurdles since, his jumping has not been foot-perfect and O’Neill is hoping the grey can continue to improve in that department.
“He’s in good old form and has schooled well since his last run, so we’ll see how we get on,” said the Jackdaws Castle handler. “We all know he’s been a bit novicey, but he jumped a bit better on his last run and these are the races he’s capable of running in. If he can get into a bit of a rhythm early on and things went right for him, hopefully he’ll run a nice race.”
Although a valuable contest in its own right, an enduring appeal of today’s race is the additional £75,000 on offer from the sponsors should the winner follow up in any race at the Festival next week. Tominator does hold entries in the Coral Cup, the County Hurdle and the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle, but O’Neill is refusing to look beyond his weekend assignment.
The talking horse leading up to the Imperial Cup has been Mr Mole, representing champion trainer Paul Nicholls and champion jockey Tony McCoy.
Carrying the colours of JP McManus, the five-year-old was a ready winner on heavy ground at Taunton last month and beat subsequent Grade One winner Melodic Rendezvous in October. Mr Mole, who carries The Scotsman nap today, holds an entry in next week’s County Hurdle. Nicholls said: “He is in good order – the more it rains between now and Saturday the better as he loves soft ground and we are really looking forward to running him.”
McCoy said: “It’ll be a big field and a competitive handicap, so he’ll need to be on his A-game.”
At Ayr, Full Speed has done enough in three tries over hurdles to warrant a bet in the Doonfoot Handicap.