Sandown's immensely competitive Imperial Cup looks a devil of a race to solve but at least by siding with Far Pavilions (3.25) punters know both horse and stable are in top order.

Having recently scooped a mammoth prize in Dubai with his stable-star Collier Hill, it's fair to say that Melsonby handler Alan Swinbank has his big guns primed to perfection.

Swinbank didn't get the recognition he deserved for Collier Hill's magnificent effort at Nad Al Sheba, although rest assured the press and television cameras will be swarming around him like flies if Far Pavilions lands this afternoon's £60,000 two-mile contest.

Owned by David Abell, whose white-and-blue-spotted colours have previously been sported by record-breakers Branston Abby and Star Rage, Far Pavilions proved he was over his former injury problems by sweeping aside a strong field at Musselburgh last month.

It was a typically brilliant training performance by Swinbank who, given the right sort of ammunition, is equally adept at either producing high-quality National Hunt stock or horses that run exclusively on the level.

The beauty of backing Far Pavilions is that he possesses the speed of a decent Flat stayer, combined with the natural ability to ping hurdles, gaining vital ground on his rivals at virtually every obstacle.

Lumping top-weight to victory in the opening EBF National Hunt Novices' Handicap Hurdle is a tall order for Rebel Rhythm (2.15) but he's a strapping individual well capable of holding his own in the Grade 3 two-and-a-half-miler.

Sue Smith's six-year-old bravely answered every call from rider Dominic Elsworth when going for broke as his partner bravely held the persistent late challenge of Von Origny at Bangor.

It was the sort of courage most trainers would walk over broken glass for, so rest assured if Rebel Rhythm does get in a dog-fight, he'll be scrapping all the way to the finishing line.

Edwin Tuer, the Great Smeaton, near Northallerton, permit-holder, despatches Through The Rye (4.30) to the Esher venue to contest the novices' chase for the right to bag the Burnt Oak and Special Cargo Cup.

Tuer's raider broke his duck for the season by narrowly out-pointing Parknasilla in a very quick time at Carlisle in February, after which Through The Rye then lost nothing in defeat when touched off by Stormy Lord in a battle royal at Kelso last weekend.

There's also interest as far as our region is concerned in the mares-only Bumper event, because Keith Reveley has entered Diklers Rose (4.00) for the £25,000 final of the series.

The booking of top jockey Timmy Murphy is a massive plus for supporters of Diklers Rose, an impressive scorer at Newcastle, where she showed a decent turn of foot to scoot away from her rivals in the closing stages.

Karelian, purchased for a wallet-draining 105,000 guineas from France, bids to make it two wins from four in the Jamarc Construction Juvenile Hurdle at Ayr.

Kevin Ryan's four-year-old left another of today's opponents, Admiral, for dead when the pair clashed at Doncaster, a victory which preceded an even better second-placing to current Triumph Hurdle favourite Akilak.

The Cheltenham Festival has never been the target for Karelian, who will probably head for Aintree's Grand National meeting, provided he passes this afternoon's test with flying colours.

* Janus (Colin Woods) maintained his recent run of good form with Shazal, a 5-1 winning nap at Ayr yesterday.

* Jamie Snowden claimed the riding honours on Grand Military Gold Cup day at Sandown Park with a double highlighted by the feature-race success of hot favourite Whitenzo.

The 25-year-old rider, recently promoted to become a captain in the Royal Hussars, will leave the army later this year to become assistant trainer to Nicky Henderson.

But he hopes to continue his riding career and should be a useful asset to his new employer judged by his two stylish successes here.

Having captured the Royal Artillery Gold Cup three weeks earlier, Whitenzo and Snowden returned to the same course and distance to complete the military double in the Grand Military Gold Cup in front of the Queen.

Snowden, 25, gave the 8-11 winner a perfect ride, quickening the pace from the third-last fence to see off his rivals and meeting the last two on a perfect stride. At the line, the Paul Nicholls-trained winner had 12 lengths to spare over Curtins Hill, with Carbury Cross well beaten in third.

''He was becoming a bit disappointing last season and Paul tried him in blinkers but he absolutely hated them,'' said Snowden, winning the race for the second time.

''The drop in class to these races and wearing a tongue-tie has really helped him and he enjoyed himself today.

''The tongue-tie has stopped him from choking in his races and he quickened up well when I asked him to.''

Snowden had struck first when Transit motored past his rivals to lift the opening contest.

The Brian Ellison-trained 7-2 favourite cut down front-runner The Local at the final flight of the Barclays Amateur Riders' Handicap Hurdle and stayed on all the way to the line to record a 14-length verdict.

The well-backed six-year-old fairly sprinted up the hill as his rivals toiled.

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