14.25 Sandown – Matchbook Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) Cl1 2m110y ITV4
This year Matchbook are pulling no punches in the Imperial Cup by upping the bonus to a mouth-watering £100k.
For those that aren’t familiar with the bonus scenario, then – as well as the £42k connections receive for winning the Imperial Cup – over the years the sponsors have also attached an added bonus should the winner go onto land ANY Cheltenham Festival race the following week.
A great incentive for trainers and owners, but the bonus had never hit the £100k…… until now!
This huge carrot has helped attracted another decent field of 17 runners as connections look to become the first horse since Gaspara to pocket the extra wonga. This David Pipe-trained runner took The Imperial Cup in 2007 before adding the Fred Winter at the Cheltenham Festival a week later.
Olympian (1993) & Blowing Wind (1998) are others to pick up the bonus – oh, and they were also trained by the Pipes!
So, I think you can see where I’m going with this. There are many races through the year that certain trainers like to target and when seasoned racing fans are asked about the Imperial Cup the Pipe yard is one of the first things to crop up.
They’ve actually won the race a staggering 9 times in total and four times in the last 13 years – with the most recent of those Baltimore Rock in 2014.
Can The Pipe’s Make It Ten?
With their record in the race, you’d be a brave man to say, no!
The Pond House stable have just the one runner this year – FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHT – but this 5-year-old certainly looks to have a decent chance. Those against the Pipe horse might cling to the fact the stable are having a quiet season (just 26 winners), however, that can quickly turnaround.
This 5-year-old is yet to finish out of the first three from 5 hurdles starts and heads here off a decent second at Ascot last time. The winner that day was another horse in the race called LE PATRIOTE but the Pipe horse only needs to find a length on that form. He’s also 3lbs better off this time, while the drop back to 2m should also help.
The pair also pulled 6 lengths clear of the field that day, which suggests the form is above average and really siding with this duo doesn’t look the worst shout in the world and is how I’ll be playing the race.
Friday Night Light and Le Patriote both currently have entries in the County Hurdle and Martin Pipe Conditonal Jockeys’ Handicap at the Festival next week.
Best Of The Rest
Surprisingly, the Nicky Henderson yard have only won the Imperial Cup once before (2009) but it looks like they are going all out this year with two leading hopes.
Call Me Lord and Whatswrongwithyou have been popular in the betting since the entries came out and it’s easy to see why.
Call Me Lord was a good winner over course and distance in January, and it’s been no secret the Henderson yard think he’ll turn out to be better than a handicapper. There were even Champion Hurdle thoughts at one stage. A recent third in the Grade Two Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton backs that thinking up and when he won over course and distance earlier this season he carried 11-12 so is capable of lumping the weight round.
For me, I’d just be a bit concerned this is a better-looking race than the one he landed here in January, so it might not be as easy carrying the weight – while it’s interesting 13 of the last 15 winners of this race had 10-13 or less.
The other Henderson runner – Whatswrongwithyou – gets in with 10-13 thanks to Call Me Lord being in the race. This 7-year-old has done little wrong of late and heads here having won his last two. He’s up just 6lbs from his handicap debut victory at Newbury last month and has also run well over this course and distance (2nd) before.
He’s a big player on what we’ve seen and for a 7-year-old he’s actually very lightly-raced with only three hurdles runs. If you are, however, looking for something to take him on with then 12 of the last 15 winners of this were aged 6 or younger.
Fidux and Highway One O One are others to note but I have to give a mention to the 9-year-old GASSIN GOLF. Yes, if you like your trends then he’ll need to buck a few – especially with his age as we’ve only seen one horse older than 8 win this since 1984. However, this is a race he’s gone well in before and, more importantly, he seems to love it here at Sandown.
His form at the Esher track reads 2-3-10-3-3, which is not too shabby.
Yes, he was down the field in the race 12 months ago, but he was also runner-up in 2014 and third in 2015. He’s racing off a mark of 126 this Saturday too, which is 7lbs lower than last year. Jockey Richard Patrick continues in the saddle and takes off handy 5lbs so if you are looking for something a bit left-field then after seconds and third in the race Gassin Golf might finally be able to land a hole-in-one!