Imperial Cup Betting Tips, Stats & History

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.

Race Info

This race sees the field take on eight hurdles on Sandown’s right-handed galloping track. There will be a fair amount of give in the turf and this is likely to favour front runners as making up ground from the back will be tough in such conditions. If the eventual winner of this race can also secure victory at the Cheltenham Festival next week they will be handed a rewarding bonus of £100,000.

GoingDistanceGradePrize MoneyRunnersEW Terms
Soft 1m 7f 216y 3 £75,000 22 Max 1/4 1-4

Imperial Cup Betting Tips

Sandown, 14:25, Saturday 9th March 2019

While not quite as prestigious as it once was, it’s still a race that regularly attracts a large and good quality field. One of the most talented names involved this year looks to be Kim Bailey’s First Flow, who returns from nearly a year on the side-lines.

This looks a decent renewal with the top-weight adding a dose of class to proceedings. The one for us though is a returning runner, who looked on his way to the top last season and will love the underfoot conditions.

The large fields in this race have produced some big priced winners including four at 20/1 or greater during the last six renewals.

One thing to pay attention to is that horses with a high official rating haven’t fared too well in this race. There hasn’t been a single winner who had a rating higher than 133 in the last 10 years.

Call Me Lord will carry 14 pounds more than the next heaviest rival in the weights in this near two-mile handicap affair, the last decent-sized race before the Cheltenham Festival gets underway.

The presence of the 160 rated Call Me Lord in this year’s line-up means that a good number of these will be up against it from the start by virtue of having to race from out of the weights, possibly negating that ratings trend. Taking the view that we don’t particularly want to be backing a runner carrying more weight than they should do allows us to narrow the field down considerably.

Go With The Flow

With the rain seemingly arriving around the country and the ground at the track currently described as soft, the Kim Bailey-trained First Flow must make his way towards the head of any shortlist. This seven year old has form figures of 111P in hurdle contests on soft or heavy ground, and such was his level of form last season that only three runners started a shorter price than him in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

It all went wrong at Cheltenham, but if able to return to the form of his three previous wins – which came by a combined 34 lengths – he may well go close off a mark of 144. The main question mark concerning this one is that he has been off the track for 361 days.

Malay The Way To Go?

Seven of the past nine winners have carried 10st7lb or less on the day, and seven of the last 10 have been aged either five or six. One who fits each of those trends is the Paul Nicholls runner, Malaya. This likeable mare didn’t see out the 2m3½f trip last time out, but that did at least get her back on track following successive falls. A 3¾ winner of a soft ground handicap at around this time last year, when running off 134, she looks to hold every chance off just 2lbs higher here.

Henderson To Lord It Over Rivals

With form figures of 1121 at this track the Nicky Henderson-trained Call Me Lord makes obvious appeal at the top of the weights. That sole defeat did come in this race last season though and he is 8lbs higher here. Even with his welter-burden though, he likely is the class of this field and may be tough to keep out of the frame. Ignore his effort at Ascot last time out as he was badly hampered at a crucial stage and may not have quite stayed the 3m trip. Back down in distance at a track he loves, he’s a must for the shortlist.

Final Verdict: First Flow to win

Call Me Lord is the obvious one here, but that 8lb higher mark is just enough to put us off, although he may still be worth a small saver. Malaya meanwhile is tough to rule out for the in-form Paul Nicholls.

The one for us though is First Flow who looked a potential star on soft ground last season and can resume his progress here.

Recent Winners

YearWinnerSPTrainerJockey
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
2010 Qaspal 11/4 Philip Hobbs A P McCoy

About the Imperial Cup

Close Up View of Gold Trophy

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.

Money Talks

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.

Chart Showing the Imperial Cup's Most Successful Jockeys Between 1947 and 2019

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 to1922. 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 17 years up to an including 2018, all 17 winners had not won more than twice over hurdles previous to the Imperial Cup; 16 out of those 17 winners had run in the six weeks running up to the race; and finally, 15 of those 17 winners were carrying 10st13lb or less.

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