The Imperial Cup (Saturday 9 March) dates back to 1907 and it was once the biggest hurdle race in England before the Champion Hurdle was created in 1927.
It is now a grade three handicap hurdle run at Sandown over 1 mile 7 furlongs and 216 yards that is open to four-year-olds and offers a first prize of over £42,000. However, the winner can go on and collect a lucrative bonus if it also wins at the following week’s Cheltenham Festival.
Imperial Cup 10-Year-Trends
The most notable Imperial Cup statistic in the last decade is that all 10 winners have fallen into quite a small ratings band, with all 10 winners rated between 124 and 133.
Nine of those winners have also carried less than 11-0, with the other carrying 11-2 (but only rated 128).
Winners have been aged either five, six, seven, or eight, with horses aged five or six accounting for seven winners.
The only favourite to win was the 2010 winner Qaspal who won at odds of 11/4. Only two other winners were returned in single-figures, with the remaining seven winning at odds ranging from 10/1 to 33/1.
Winners had run between three and 11 times over hurdles, with eight winners running between two and five-times that season over hurdles, though the other two had run eight times and ten times.
Only three winners had previously won at Sandown, whilst four winners had run on the flat before starting their hurdles careers.
Imperial Cup Major Contenders
Improving five-year-old that has won his last two races in good style including a nine-length win over course and distance last time. The handicapper raised him 10lb for that win but his new mark of 132 means he looks ideally weighted. Despite that, he will have to run from 2lb out of the handicap if the top-weight Call Me Lord stands his ground.
Dream Du Grand Val
Six-year-old that is rated 139 after wins in a handicap and a novice hurdle on his last two starts. That means he’s rated 6lb higher than any of the last 10 winners but he will only have to carry 10-5 if stablemate Call Me Lord runs and keeps the weights down.
Won three times last season over two miles before flopping at the Cheltenham Festival. Could still be potentially well-handicapped off a mark of 144, but that’s 11lb higher than any recent winner and he’d also have to carry more weight than seven of the last 10 winners. A tough ask on his first run of the season, but his stable is enjoying plenty of winners.
Performed with credit when fourth in a handicap at Ascot last time but looks more exposed than several of his rivals. Handicapper has dropped him a few pounds this season but it may not be enough unless this five-year-old has progressed like some other Paul Nichols horses have recently since we last saw him in February.
Rated in the 80’s on the flat and has taken well to hurdling for his new trainer Harry Fry. Has won his last two novice hurdles and, as the last of those was over course and distance, he could well have been laid out for this race in which he makes his handicap hurdle debut off a mark of 137.
A handicap win off a mark of 119 last time earned him a new mark of 126. That would normally have been a great mark for this race but, as it leaves him 8lb out of the handicap, he would only become interesting if the top-weight doesn’t run.
Has only run three times over hurdles but it’s interesting that his last two were on right-handed tracks as trainer David Pipe gave Baltimore Rock a similar campaign before winning this in 2014. The Pipe stable also used to be synonymous with this race and have won it nine times in total. Totally unexposed on a mark of 132 after just three runs but currently 2lb out of the handicap.
Call Me Lord
Has won handicaps over course and distance off marks of 135 and 143 and was also second in last year’s Imperial Cup off a mark of 152. Looks to have an even tougher task this year off 160 but does go well here at Sandown.
Imperial Cup Summary
This is a race that could change dramatically if Call Me Lord doesn’t run but there’s a good chance that he will as he likes to go right-handed and has a great record at Sandown.
If he does run, it means that all the other runners will carry less than 11-0. That means there’s a chance that a horse rated higher than the last 10 winners will win, as the horses in that ratings band are currently out of the handicap. If one of the 124-133 rated horses are to win, the two that catch the eye that are Monsieur Lecoq and Extra Mag.
It also looks possible that Call Me Lord could have been entered to keep the weights down for stablemate Dream Du Grand Val.
However, the top-weights presence would also suit the experienced ex-flat horse Winston C. His trainer Harry Fry has enjoyed a strike-rate of around 30% in the last two weeks, and the fact this course and distance winner would be having his first run in a handicap over hurdles here suggests his trainer thinks he has him rated low enough to win a big prize.
Imperial Cup Tip:
Winston C @ 9.00 Ladbrokes, Coral, SkyBet, 888Sport