The Imperial Cup is a Grade 3 handicap hurdle run over two miles at Sandown Park, on the Saturday before Cheltenham. It has long carried a large bonus fund for any horse able to win it and then go on to double up at the Cheltenham Festival, and this bonus has been claimed by the likes of Olympian, Blowing Wind and Gaspara, all trained by either Martin, or son David, Pipe.
Imperial Cup Trends
Thanks for horseracebase for these stats.
Thirteen of the last seventeen winners (76%) either finished on the podium last time (eleven), or were pulled up (two), from 58% of the runners.
Very lightly raced horses, especially four- and five-year olds, have the best record. That age bracket has won nine of the last seventeen (53%) from just 26% of the runners. They are also responsible for twenty placed horses (30% of the places).
Only two horses have shouldered more than 11-01 to win the Imperial Cup and, indeed, twelve of the last seventeen winners carried feather weights of 10-07 or less. That's 71% of the winners coming from the 42% of lowest weighted runners.
Related to weight, fourteen of the last seventeen winners (82%) were rated 130 or lower, from 68% of the runners.
In terms of absence from the track, although seven winners were returning within 30 days of their last start, the best winners-to-runners ratio comes from those off a break of 31 to 120 days. They collectively claimed ten of the seventeen wins (59%) from 114 runners (35%).
So we may be best suited to looking for a lightly raced, lightly weighted, last time out placer, absent from the track for between one and three months. If that's true, the four-year-old Harristown has a very attractive profile: he's rated 130; has 10-06 taking in his rider's claim; last ran 30 days ago; is rated 130; and won his last race. Oh, and he's 22/1.
Imperial Cup Form Preview
David Pipe has won this twice, and his father Martin won it six times. From those eight victories, the Pipe's have gone on to land the Cheltenham bonus three times, which is an excellent strike rate when you consider the ferocity of both this and Festival handicaps!
This time Pipe saddles top weight Swing Bowler - a talented mare engaged in the Mares' Hurdle on Tuesday - and Baltimore Rock, for whom the former may be aiming to anchor the weights. Call me cynical, but it will come as no surprise if Swing Bowler is a non-runner today...
In any case, Baltimore Rock is the interesting one, having won two of his last three runs on heavy ground. Despite costing 160,000 guineas, he has a rating of just 125 and is clearly progressive. That's the sort you need to win a race like this and follow up at the Festival and, with a win in a bumper on good to soft, the ground at Cheltenham - and here for that matter - should not be the reason he fails to land a double.
As well as his two winners, David Pipe has also had four further placed horses from his eleven Imperial Cup runners. Baltimore Rock's chance is hugely respected.
But he's not the only horse trying to set up a lucrative bonus swoop next week: both Vibrato Valtat and Regal Encore bid to do likewise.
Vibrato Valtat is going the right way apace, and is just a pound higher than when winning a Listed novices' hurdle at Exeter last time. That was a small field and this will be a very different kettle of fish, but he had plenty in hand that day and I admit to having had a small bet on him in the County Hurdle, a race for which his price will truncate markedly should he claim this.
However, I don't believe either of the above pair is the best handicapped horse in the race. That surely is Regal Encore, last year's Champion Bumper runner-up. Trained by Anthony Honeyball, he's been the subject of some 'interesting' rides from AP McCoy this season, when given too much to do behind both Garde La Victoire at Aintree and Seeyouatmidnight at Hexham.
Garde La Victoire has gone on to win again, and wasn't beaten far in the Grade 1 Tolworth last time, while Seeyouatmidnight has won twice since, including the Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle. When you consider that Tony McCoy may actually be trying today, and further that Regal Encore wasn't right - as so many of Honeyball's horses have not been right this season - that day, then he has a MASSIVE chance of 130 IF he's healthy.
Some readers will know that geegeez syndicates a horse in training with Anthony Honeyball, and in his recent communications he's seemed a lot happier with the health of his string. He has an army of entries in the coming days, but there is no evidence from the track yet that the illness in the yard has passed. That's the risk.
But at 9/2 on a horse mooted for the Neptune before the start of the season, and a Champion Bumper runner-up as well, I think it's a risk worth taking, and I've had a fair bet. If he wins in here, and gets into the Martin Pipe, I think he'll have an extremely solid chance there, as this trip is on the short side for him. That is mitigated by the fact that this hard puller should travel much more kindly off the stronger pace today.
The rest look to have either too much weight or not enough ability, and I think it lies between the above.
Imperial Cup Tips
Regal Encore 3.8/1 Betbright
Vibrato Valtat, Baltimore Rock
Best each way:
Harristown 22/1 BetVictor (BOG)
Huge priced possible place play:
Skint 50/1 bet365 (BOG)
Best Imperial Cup Bookie Offer
Betbright are offering customers who open a new account with them today a £30 risk-free bet AND a free £20 bet to use on Day 1 of Cheltenham. Full details here.