Imperial Cup Preview – 3.00 Sandown
Currently heading the betting for the race is Fixe Le Kap who hasn’t been seen since finishing midfield in the Fred Winter at the Cheltenham Festival. He’s clearly had his problems but it’s interesting that connections have decided to target a race of this nature on his comeback run. Soft ground seems ideal for him so the likelihood of testing conditions will suit and he showed some strong novice form early on in his career against horses who are now rated much higher so is potentially well treated off a mark of 138.
I strongly fancied William H Bonney in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month but he was ultimately disappointing having travelled well for a long way. Trainer Alan King was quick to point out afterwards that he had a feeling the run would come too soon for the horse (13 days since his win at Cheltenham on Trials Day) and has been given more time to recover from his latest exertions. On the form of his Cheltenham win he has a strong chance and it’s probably best to forgive him his latest run and will go close if back to form off just 2lb higher than his latest win.
Gassin Golf was an early casualty in the Betfair Hurdle last time but had previously run two good races off the back of a long lay-off. Kerry Lee has booked the services of up-and-coming 7lb amateur Richard Patrick who has impressed this season. Has twice finished placed in this race with a second in 2014 and was third in 2015 off a mark of 132 and races off just 1lb higher this time round.
Ian Williams has been in good form of late and runs London Prize who has remained consistent in recent runs and was travelling okay when falling four out when last seen over hurdles. He’s since gone close in a competitive handicap on the flat. His novice form has worked out relatively well and a mark of 128 looks fair based on what he’s achieved to date. My slight worry with London Prize is that his only run on soft ground was a disappointing one and doesn’t look as though he will appreciate testing conditions.
It’s fair to say recent French recruit Max Do Brazil was disappointing on his British debut in the race William H Bonney won at Cheltenham on Trials day. He’d previously shown some respectable form in France and was purchased for £160,000 before joining the Pipe stable. The Pipe team are notorious for targeting this race and going for the bonus at Cheltenham and he does hold entries at the festival next week. Races with a tongue-tie on for the first time.
Admirable performer Kayf Blanco has produced some good efforts this season, most notably when finishing a close third behind Brain Power over course and distance earlier in the season. He’s run some of his best races at the course but the handicapper hasn’t really given him a chance because of his consistency and although he looks high enough in the handicap at present, he’s sure to run his race once more.
Gary Moore runs two in this race and his best chance looks to be Not Another Muddle judging by Jockey bookings. He’s been progressing nicely in novice company but this is a big step up in class for his handicap debut and will need to improve on what he’s shown so far. He should appreciate the ground though as he’s seemed to relish testing conditions so far in his career.
Bigmartre won a competitive handicap at Kempton in December off a mark of 133 and is only 1lb higher than that win now. He would be of interest on that form although he looked a lucky winner that day with the second being hampered at a crucial stage and was well behind William H Bonney last time out so needs to put that run behind him.
Another horse who is potentially well handicapped is Chieftain’s Choice who won well at Sandown last time out in similar conditions. Will need to step up again on that form but the runner up has franked the form since and is still 6lb lower than his highest winning mark.
Fourth to William H Bonney at Cheltenham was Disputed and he’s since finished second behind an improving horse at Lingfield. His stamina is sure to come into play in these conditions having won over further in the past and is weighted to reverse form with William H Bonney. Hasn’t had much time to recover from his recent run though and does look a difficult ride.
Dual performer Spice Fair looks high enough in the handicap at present and will need to improve on his recent form. Although he has run some decent races at the course, it’s hard to make a case for him.
The other Gary Moore runner is Darebin who is another dual performer in this field and has been kept busy on the flat of late. He’s 6lb higher than his last winning mark so doesn’t look that well handicapped. Has shown improved form on the flat since his last start over jumps but will need to progress again to be competitive today.
Outsider of the field is Prairie Town who reverts to hurdles after finishing runner-up over fences the last twice. Those were decent efforts and he’s clearly in good form but hasn’t won for a while now and looks up against it even on the best of his form.
Verdict: Not a vintage renewal of the Imperial Cup compared to recent years but competitive nonetheless. There’s plenty of questions marks for most of these runners and Fixe Le Kap deserves to be the favourite with the likelihood of more to come and has the potential to be a lot better than his mark of 138. However, it’s hard to be confident about a horse who’s been off for such a long time. Although William H Bonney was disappointing last time I’m prepared to forgive him that run and is of strong interest based on his Cheltenham win. Kayf Blanco doesn’t look obviously well handicapped but has been consistent this season and should run his race once more. Max Do Brazil is surely better than what he showed on his British debut but can’t be backed with any real confidence other than the fact his stable have a good record in this race. Gassin Golf has a good record in this race and has place credentials.
1) William H Bonney 2) Gassin Golf 3) Kayf Blanco