The weekend before the Cheltenham Festival brings racing from Sandown with their Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle the standout contest. It’s a race with a long history dating back to 1907, pre-dating the Champion Hurdle by 20 years, and in the early days it was one of the most significant hurdle contests on the calendar.
The race organisers and sponsors have regularly offered a bonus for any horse who can win the Imperial Cup and then win at the Cheltenham Festival the following week. This was accomplished by David Pipe’s Gaspara who won the Sandown feature in 2007 under A P McCoy before winning the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival just three days later when ridden by Andrew Glassonbury. Nine years previously in 1998 McCoy also won the Imperial Cup for David Pipe’s father Martin on-board Blowing Wind with the three partnering up five days later to take the County Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Next Race: Saturday, 13th March 2021
The next race is scheduled to run on 13th March 2021. The race info, trends and tips shown below will be updated for the next renewal once the final declarations have been made.
Last Run: 9th March 2019
- Winner: Malaya
- SP: 7/1
- Trainer: Paul Nicholls
- Jockey: Harry Cobden
2m is the trip for this Grade 3 Handicap Hurdle affair which offers £75,000 in guaranteed prize money. The ground at the track is currently described as heavy, with enough rain in the forecast to suggest that this will remain the case come the day of the race.
|Going||Distance||Grade||Prize Money||Runners||EW Terms|
|Heavy||2m||Grade 3||£75,000||19 Runners||1/4 1-4|
Imperial Cup Betting Tips
Note: The following tips are from 2020. Tips for the next renewal will be added once the final declarations have been made.
Please be aware that the 2020 Imperial Cup was abandoned due to water logging at Sandown racecourse.
Coming as close as it does to the imminent Cheltenham Festival, it wouldn’t be too surprising were connections of the top two-mile handicappers to give this race the swerve in favour of a tilt at glory at Prestbury Park. The sponsors are well aware of that though, and have given owners and trainers alike a very good reason to take a shot at this race and the Cheltenham Festival as well. Any horse who manages to win this, and follow up in any Cheltenham Festival event will earn a hefty £100,000 bonus and that means we have some really decent sorts going to post.
With six wins in total, it is legendary handler Martin Pipe who tops the all-time trainers list in this one. Martin has of course been retired for a number of years now, but whatever he knew about winning this race he seems to have passed on to his son. Of the trainers represented this year, it is David Pipe who boasts the best record with three previous victories. Pipe relies on the four-timer seeking, Main Fact, this time around so has a decent hand for sure.
We have a couple of strong trends in evidence here concerning the age of, and weight carried by the winner. None of the past 10 editions of this race have fallen to a runner older than eight, whilst eight of the past 10 to have come home in front have been saddled with 10st7lb or less on the day. So, where does that leave the leading contrenders?
|Mack The Man||9/2||11st 1lb||Evan Williams||Adam Wedge|
|Main Fact||11/2||10st 11lbs||David Pipe||Fergus Gillard|
|Malaya||8/1||11st 8lbs||Paul Nicholls||Bryan Carver|
|Dostal Phil||9/1||11st 1lb||Philip Hobbs||Barry Geraghty|
MACK THE MAN (9/2)
Evan Williams is yet to land this prize, but he will have high hopes of changing that in 2020 with his talented six year old, Mack The Man. Unable to get his nose in front in five starts last season, this son of Flemensfirth has returned to the track a much improved performer this time around.
A winner off a mark of 115 at Warwick on his seasonal return, he was then stepped up into Listed Handicap company in a heavy ground event over this course and distance in December. Only really needing to be ridden out to land that event by 1¾ from a mark of 122, we can at least be sure that these conditions and the track seem to suit him well enough.
He is up to 130 ahead of this, but was still going along well enough off this rating last time out in the Betfair Hurdle only to be brought down at the final flight. Provided that experience hasn’t left its mark, he looks likely to run a big race and is easy to back.
MAIN FACT (11/2)
Also prominent in the market is the aforementioned Main Fact from the yard of three-time winner, David Pipe. This one wouldn’t be typically bred for the National Hunt sphere – being by Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, Blame, and out of a Sadler’s Wells mare – but that hasn’t stopped the seven year old racking up a quick fire four-timer over hurdles. So much for breeding!
The most recent of those wins came at Wetherby only five days ago, but with the first three victories having come in the space of just nine days back in January, we can be fairly confident that he can cope when turned out again quickly.
With that Wetherby win coming when sluicing home by 6½l in heavy ground, we can also be assured that he is likely to handle the conditions perfectly fine here. In addition, with that race having come so recently, his new handicap mark won’t kick in in time for this race, meaning he gets in under just a 4lb penalty. With further improvement also possible for the application of first-time cheek-pieces, he looks a major threat to all.
Also going to post is the defending champ from the yard of Paul Nicholls. A little surprisingly Nicholls had never won this race prior to the 2019 edition, but that all changed thanks to his tough mare, Malaya.
1¼l too good for the field 12 months ago, that winning margin didn’t do full justice to her superiority that day. Cantering into contention two from home, she then made a terrible error at that second last flight which really ought to have ended her chances of winning.
The fact that she was still able to get back up for a comfortable success suggests she was pretty well in off her mark of 136 that day. She hasn’t been anything like as good since, but is back down to an official rating of 138 now, and with Bryan Carver taking 5lbs off in the saddle, she looks potentially very well handicapped and a return to this race could be just what she needs.
DOSTAL PHIL (9/1)
Another for the shortlist is the JP McManus-owned and Philip Hobbs-trained seven year old, Dostal Phil. A winner of his only start in France, this son of Coastal Path has performed to a consistently high level since joining the Hobbs operation in October 2017, with his only poor performance coming when looking badly in need of the experience in a decent Novice event at Cheltenham in November 2018.
Given a 106 day break to get over that flop, he just failed on his return to the track at Newbury, before breaking his maiden in emphatic fashion in a soft ground affair at Exeter over 2m2½f. Making his seasonal debut in a handicap affair at Fontwell this year, he showed an admirable attitude to shoulder 11st12lb and plough through the heavy ground to score by six-lengths that day.
He’s up 6lb for that, but that looks perfectly fair and, at the prices, we make him our each way bet in the race – with his proven ability to stay further expected to be a real feather in his cap in what may turn into a slog. 9/1 looks more than fair and although there are plenty in with a chance, it’s Dostal Phil for us.
Imperial Cup Winners
|2020||Abandoned (water logging)||-||-||-|
|2019||Malaya||7/1||Paul Nicholls||Harry Cobden|
|2018||Mr Antolini||20/1||Nigel Twiston-Davies||Jamie Bargary|
|2017||London Prize||10/1||Ian Williams||Tom O’Brien|
|2016||Flying Angel||9/1||Nigel Twiston-Davies||Ryan Hatch|
|2015||Ebony Express||33/1||Dr Richard Newland||William Kennedy|
|2014||Baltimore Rock||7/1||David Pipe||Tom Scudamore|
|2013||First Avenue||20/1||Laura Mongan||Nathan Adams|
|2012||Paintball||20/1||Charlie Longsdon||Noel Fehily|
|2011||Alarazi||10/1||Lucy Wadham||Dominic Elsworth|
About the Imperial Cup
The Imperial Cup at Sandown is one of the most prestigious National Hunt hurdle races in all of the racing calendar and is therefore seen as one of the most important. It is run on a Saturday in March, only a few days before the start of the world renowned Cheltenham Festival. The race features horses aged four years and older, and is seen as one of the faster-run races in the National Hunt season due to its short distance and therefore few hurdles (of which there are just eight).
Sandown Park racecourse was first opened in 1875 which makes it about the 25th oldest British racecourse still featuring races. It was 32 years after the course opened, in 1907, that the very first Imperial Cup was held. Upon its conception the race was heralded as the most important hurdle race of the year, and this was the case until the very first Champion Hurdle was held in 1927, although the Imperial Cup is still held in the highest of regard to this very day.
As this race has been seen from its very origin as one of the pinnacle features of the racing year, there has always been extremely stiff competition within the field, drawing out the very best from horses, jockeys and trainers, all vying for the sizable purse on offer. In fact from 1992 the sponsor of the event has offered a bonus to the owner of the winning horse if they can continue their great form and win any race at the Cheltenham Festival the following week. Some trainers believe that this may put too much strain on a horse, however, and the majority of recent winners have not been entered to race at Cheltenham just a week later.
Imperial Cup Winners at the Cheltenham Festival: 1990 – 2019
|Year||Imperial Cup Winner||Cheltenham Performance|
|2016||Flying Angel||2nd – Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle|
|2015||Ebony Express||19th – Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle|
|2013||First Avenue||Pulled-up – Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle|
|2011||Alarazi||15th Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle|
|2009||Dave’s Dream||6th – Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle|
|2008||Ashkazar||2nd – Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle|
|2007||Gaspara||1st – Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle|
|2004||Scorned||14th – Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle|
|2003||Korelo||5th – Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle|
|2002||Polar Red||13th – Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle|
|2000||Magic Combination||15th – Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle|
|1998||Blowing Wind||1st – Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle|
|1997||Carlito Brigante||2nd – Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle|
|1996||Amancio||22nd – Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle|
|1995||Collier Bay||4th – Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle|
|1994||Precious Boy||10th – County Handicap Hurdle|
|1993||Olympian||1st – Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle|
|1990||Moody Man||1st – County Handicap Hurdle|
This bonus was however won by several horses over the years including Olympian in 1993, Blowing Wind in 1998, and Gaspara in 2007. The bonus up for grabs was suspended in 2016 as the event was unsponsored, although Matchbook sponsored the event in 2017 and brought it back to the tune of £50,000, and even doubled it in 2018 to £100,000. This sizable figure has been on offer ever since.
Simply The Best
As previously stated, this event is one which only attracts the best in the sport, so it seems only fitting that the record for the most wins by a jockey should be held by arguably one of the greatest jockeys who has ever graced the sport: Tony McCoy. He won the contest an amazing five times during his illustrious career. Three of those rides were under the record-holding trainer Martin Pipe who oversaw six different winners, a simply astounding achievement in anyone’s book.
As for the equestrian side of the record books the most recorded wins by any horse was the three consecutive wins achieved by Trespasser from 1920 to 1922. To date there has only ever been three other horses who have won the event twice, surely a testament to how difficult getting the better of the top-quality field often is.
There are some very interesting trends regarding the race. For instance, in the 18 years up to an including 2019, 17 of the 18 winners had not won more than twice over hurdles previous to the Imperial Cup; 17 out of those 18 winners had run in the six weeks running up to the race; and finally, 16 of those 18 winners were carrying 10st 13lb or less.