The big betting race at Sandown Park on Saturday is the £75,000 Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle over two miles at 2.25. The race also carries a massive £100,000 bonus for any horse that wins here and goes on to win any race at the Cheltenham Festival. It was first achieved by Martin Pipe with Olympian in 1993. He then completed the double with Blowing Wind in 1998 and his son, David, trained Gaspara to win here and at Cheltenham in 2007.
Pipe is prominent on the ante-betting list this year with Extra Mag, a lightly-raced French import. He won a novices’ hurdle at Exeter before finishing second to Precious Cargo at Kempton in January. The well supported Benny’s Bridge came from a long way off the pace to win at Cheltenham last time out. He is the last of the sixteen horses to sneak into the race but must race from 8lbs out of the handicap.
Nicky Henderson’s Dream Du Grand Val holds two entries at Cheltenham next week and is chasing a hat-trick. His latest victory was in a low grade event at Kelso but he could potentially be well handicapped. He makes more appeal than stable companion Call Me Lord, runner-up in this race under a big weight last year. He is 8lbs higher and has shown his best form over longer distances.
Monsieur Lecoq has missed some tempting engagements recently for Jane Williams and Lizzie Kelly. He has gone up 10lbs for his nine lengths victory over Our Merlin over course and distance in January. The son of Diamond Boy will enjoy the testing conditions and gets in with a light weight despite his penalty.
Blu Cavalier was the rank outsider in the valuable Betfair Hurdle last month but ran an excellent race to finish third behind Al Dancer. The winner is favourite for the opening race at the Cheltenham Festival next week. He was having his first race for the Ali Stronge stable since being transferred from the powerful Paul Nicholls yard.
Nicholls cannot be left out of calculations with his stable in flying form. His representative here is Malaya, a tough and consistent mare by Martaline. She caught the eye when coming from the back of the field to finish fourth to stable companion Brio Conti at Ascot last month. A fast pace will suit her as she stays further and goes well in the soft ground.
Imperial Cup Betting Tips
MALAYA can continue the amazing run of form by the Paul Nicholls stable. MONSIEUR LECOQ will enjoy the conditions and is a big threat. SOLOMON GREY and BLU CAVALIER look best of the remainder.