The Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday is one of the most competitive handicap hurdles of the season. The race also carries an enticing £100,000 bonus for the winner, should they go on to win any race at next week’s Cheltenham Festival. Mack The Man has an ideal opportunity to gain consolation for being brought down in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. The novice Shakem Up’Arry is feared most with Malaya rated a good each-way bet.
Bookmakers have installed Mack The Man as ante-post favourite after he was brought down in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. Evan Williams trains the six-year-old, a course and distance winner in heavy ground here in December. The form of that race has been advertised by both the runner-up and the third horse since.
Mack The Man was given an 8lbs hike in the weights after that victory but was still strongly fancied for the competitive Betfair Hurdle. Adam Wedge was picking his way through that large field when the horse was brought down at the final flight. It was too early to say whether he would have won but he was certainly travelling well enough to have featured in the placings.
Sir Valentine (fourth) and Tamaroc Du Mathan (fifth) also ran in the Betfair Hurdle. There did not appear to be any excuses for them that day but both stayed on strongly from the last. The going was much faster at Newbury than they will encounter this weekend. Mack The Man is proven on this surface and rates the main selection here at 5-1 with Bet365.
Other leading contenders for this valuable prize include the novice Shakem Up’Arry, runner-up to Shishkin earlier in the season. The winner is favourite for the Festival opener, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, so it was no disgrace to be beaten there. He races with a low head-carriage but it does not stop him galloping and he rated a big danger at 5-1 with Bet365.
Main Fact represents the David Pipe stable and creeps in with a light weight despite four successive victories. He has a 4lbs penalty for his latest success at Wetherby where he handled the heavy ground well. He was under pressure to go the early pace that day and I just worry about his ability to cope with the likely hustle and bustle on Saturday.
Dostal Phil is difficult to assess after overcoming a lengthy absence to win a minor event in desperate ground at Fontwell. A 6lbs rise in the weights does not seem excessive, providing that race has not set him back.
The last horse to win the Imperial Cup twice was Precious Boy (1991 and 1994). Last year’s winner Malaya bids to put her name in the record books for Paul Nicholls. She defeated two smart hurdlers in Monsieur Lecoq and Call Me Lord so it is surprising to see her racing off the same handicap mark.
The handicapper initially raised her 6lbs but she has been well beaten in all five subsequent races. Her last run hinted at a return to form when chasing home Nordano at Ascot, albeit at a respectful distance. Nicky Henderson relies on Elusive Belle, third behind Champion Hurdle favourite Epatante at Newbury in November. She was hot favourite next time at Kempton but was beaten four lengths by Miranda.
Jolly’s Cracked It is now eleven years of age but still retains plenty of ability. He was not far behind Malaya at Ascot last time and his rider’s claim takes off a useful 5lbs. West To The Bridge likes to bowl along in front but failed to last home over three miles last time. He will certainly be prominent and they are likely to go off at a very strong gallop here. That will suit Malaya who rates a good each-way bet at 10-1 with 888Sport.