Nicky Henderson fires dual assault on Imperial Cup prize

Call Me Lord and Dream Du Grand Val contest Sandown feature

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Call Me Lord and Dream Du Grand Val give Nicky Henderson a strong hand in the Matchbook Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday.

The Seven Barrows handler has won the prestigious handicap both as an amateur rider aboard Fred Winter’s Acquaint in 1977, and as a trainer with Dave’s Dream a decade ago.

Henderson will have high hopes of adding to his tally in a race which not only carries a total prize fund of £75,000, but also offers a £100,000 bonus to the connections of the winner if they can follow up in any race at next week’s Cheltenham Festival.

The last horse to land the bonus – which was first introduced in 1992 – was David Pipe’s Gaspara, who took the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle three days after scoring at Sandown in 2007.

Call Me Lord has won three of his four starts at Sandown, his only defeat coming when beaten a neck as top-weight in this race 12 months ago.

He once again carries the welter burden of 11st 12lb and must concede upwards of a stone to each of his rivals as he bids to bounce back from a disappointing first run of the season in the Long Walk at Ascot in December.

Anthony Bromley, racing manager for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, said: “Nicky says he has taken a while to come to hand this spring and he is just starting to come right now.

“I hope Call Me Lord will put up a good show and if he was lucky enough to win, we would consider going for the bonus at Cheltenham next week in either the Coral Cup or the County Hurdle.

“However, this is almost like his first run of the season and it’s probably more realistic to hope he’ll run a nice race and then we can look for something at Aintree for him.”

Bromley also heads up the Million In Mind Partnership – owners of Call Me Lord’s stable companion Dream Du Grand Val.

The six-year-old carries just 10st 5lb and is on a hat-trick following wins at Fontwell and Kelso since the turn of the year.

“He’s a novice who has won a couple of low-key races. I was surprised to see him go up 6lb for winning at heavily odds-on at Kelso. I’m not sure a mark of 139 is a fair assessment of his form, but we’ll find out on Saturday,” said Bromley.

“He also has options at Cheltenham in the County Hurdle and the Martin Pipe (Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle), so we’ll see how he goes.”

The Fergal O’Brien-trained Benny’s Bridge was a decisive winner on his latest appearance at Cheltenham in January, but must contest this weekend’s feature event from 8lb out of the weights.

O’Brien said: “I think he will handle the track and he goes on any ground and is very versatile.

“The important thing with him is a fast-run two miles, so hopefully he will get that, and he will run well.”

Nigel Hawke is hoping his high-class chaser Speredek can make the most of a lower mark over the smaller obstacles.

He said: “On his last run over hurdles he was second to the good mare of Nicky Henderson’s (Verdana Blue). He’s definitely a better horse over fences, but at the same time he’s not a bad hurdler.

“He had a bad fall over fences last time, but he’s been absolutely fine with him and we’re limited as to where we can go with him as he needs to go right-handed and wants soft ground. The softer the ground is on Saturday, the better it will suit him.

“He’s rated 153 over fences and 146 over hurdles. We wanted to take as much weight off him as possible and with Tom’s (Buckley) 10lb claim he’s almost 20lb well-in compared to his chase mark.

“Tom is based with me and rides Speredek a fair bit at home, so he knows him well, and every pound counts.”

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