Leoncavallo heads Pipe’s bid to uphold Imperial tradition

David Pipe is double-handed in a bid to extend his family’s excellent record in the Paddy Power Imperial Cup at Sandown.

His father Martin saddled six winners of the traditional feature on the Saturday before the Cheltenham Festival, while David himself has struck gold on three occasions since.

Sponsors Paddy Power are this year offering a £50,000 bonus if the winner can follow up in any race at Cheltenham next week, a double which has been achieved on just three occasions since the incentive has been up for grabs – and all by horses trained at the Pipes’ Pond House yard.

Pipe senior saddled Olympian to win the Imperial Cup-Coral Cup double in 1993, while five years later Blowing Wind followed up success at Sandown with victory in the County Hurdle.

Blowing Wind and Tony McCoy after winning at Cheltenham
Blowing Wind and Tony McCoy after winning at Cheltenham (Barry Batchelor/PA)

Gaspara landed the bonus pot for David Pipe in 2007 by winning what is now the Boodles Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham.

This year he fires a twin assault, with Leoncavallo of particular interest on what is his first competitive appearance since finishing sixth in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket in October.

“Leoncavallo has done very well on the Flat for us, and has had a break since the Cesarewitch,” said Pipe.

“He’s in good form and won’t mind the (good to soft) ground. Hopefully he’s got a decent each-way chance.

“He’s got some good form in two-mile handicaps, and it looks an open contest on Saturday.

“He’ll be left in at Cheltenham, and we’ll see what happens this weekend.”

The nine-year-old is joined by stablemate Eamon An Cnoic, who won over the course and distance last month before filling the runner-up spot at Chepstow a week later.

Pipe added: “He’s 10 years old and is not getting any younger.

“He’s got decent form round Sandown. He would probably prefer softer ground, but takes his chance.”

Natural History impressed at Plumpton
Natural History impressed at Plumpton (PA)

The likely favourite for the £50,000 contest is Natural History, but trainer Gary Moore is far from confident about his chances.

The Nathaniel gelding claimed the notable scalp of Moore’s Champion Hurdle hope Goshen on the Flat in October, when trained by Andrew Balding and owned by the Queen, before changing hands for 105,000 guineas later that month.

He was beaten on his first two hurdling starts, but bolted up on his handicap debut at Plumpton recently – and is 16lb higher in the weights as a result.

When told his charge was the clear favourite for the Imperial Cup, Moore said: “I think it’s total madness.

“He’s gone up 16lb for a winning a small race at Plumpton. He probably went into it well handicapped, but he’s come out of it badly handicapped as far as I’m concerned.

“I think it will be a tough ask for him on only his fourth run over hurdles. I hope I’m wrong, but I wouldn’t be backing him at 3-1 anyway.”

Langer Dan is well fancied for the formidable combination of Dan and Harry Skelton.

Dan Skelton said: “Langer Dan ran well at Market Rasen the last day and is probably one of those horses that as a second-season hurdler, going from juveniles and novices, has just taken a while to find his feet.

“I think Sandown will really suit him, because he wants a stiff finish and he didn’t have that at Market Rasen. I’m not saying he is going to win, but he goes there in good health and should run well.”

Miranda is one of three runners for Paul Nicholls
Miranda is one of three runners for Paul Nicholls (David Davies/PA)

Paul Nicholls saddles top-weight Miranda, as well as Diego Du Charmil and Malaya, winner of the race two years ago.

He told Betfair: “Miranda looked very good when winning a Grade Two mares’ hurdle at Doncaster at the end of January but keeps going up in the weights, so the 7lb claim of Angus Cheleda will certainly help. I expect her to run another solid race.

“Diego Du Charmil is talented and versatile, and did a lovely piece of work at Wincanton last week. He goes well fresh and is in good order.

“I have to admit Malaya was a bit disappointing last time at Ascot, where I felt the step up in trip would be in her favour. But after watching her that day, I am not convinced that is the case.

“While Malaya can be a bit in and out, she won this race two years ago, so we know the track suits her well – and it wouldn’t surprise me to see her bounce back to form.”

Natural looking to make History at Sandown

Ante-post favourite Natural History is one of 15 horses declared for the Paddy Power Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday.

The prestigious handicap hurdle is the traditional feature the Saturday before the Cheltenham Festival and another competitive field has assembled for this year’s renewal.

Natural History, who carried the colours of the Queen when trained on the Flat by Andrew Balding, was a beaten favourite on his first two hurdling starts for Gary Moore.

However, the Nathaniel gelding made a mockery of an opening mark of 116 when bolting up on his handicap debut at Plumpton a couple of weeks ago and he is strongly fancied to follow up, despite a hefty rise in the weights.

Natural History’s closest rival in the betting is Dan Skelton’s Langer Dan, while Paul Nicholls saddles top-weight Miranda, as well as Diego Du Charmil and Malaya, winner of the race two year’s ago.

Martin Pipe and his son David have won the Imperial Cup on nine occasions between them and the Pond House team again have a couple of interesting contenders in Leoncavallo and Eamon An Cnoic.

Leoncavallo has not been seen in competitive action since finishing sixth in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket in October, while Eamon An Cnoic won over the course and distance just last month.

Mick Maestro (Nick Kent) and Highway One O Two (Chris Gordon) are also in the mix.

Grade Three honours are also up for grabs in the European Breeders’ Fund Paddy Power ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final.

Pipe’s Martinhal, who is on a hat-trick following successive wins at Exeter, heads a field of 18 runners.

Nicky Henderson has a couple of major players in Captain Morgs and Patroclus, as does Nigel Twiston-Davies, with The Mick Preston and Beauport both declared.

The Nicholls-trained Rainyday Woman tops 18 declared for the British Stallion Studs EBF Mares’ Standard Open NH Flat Race.

The six-year-old must concede weight all round in her bid to double her Listed tally, having already impressed at this level at Huntingdon on her latest outing.

The dangers include Henderson’s Tweed Skirt and Alan King’s Finest View.

Natural History impresses at Plumpton

Natural History could be bound for Sandown’s Imperial Cup after a resounding success in the R.A.B.I./Joan Collinson Memorial Handicap Hurdle for Gary Moore and son Jamie at Plumpton.

Joining stablemate Goshen as a horse with a big target later in the month, the former smart Flat performer looked right at home on the drying ground as he kicked 15 lengths clear of Mystic Dreamer.

He might not have that class edge of Champion Hurdle prospect Goshen, but Moore had to admit that off a mark of 116 the 8-13 favourite – who holds a County Hurdle engagement at Cheltenham – was not badly treated for this first run in a handicap.

The trainer explained: “This has opened things up because we now know soft conditions are not essential for him.

“I’d like to think that must be a very good horse (Lucky One, trainer Paul Nicholls) that beat us 20 lengths at Wincanton, and now let’s see what the handicapper does.

“I’m easy about where he runs next, but the owner is quite ambitious and would like to have a crack at the Imperial Cup. He’ll need a substantial rise if he’s to get into it, and to be honest I won’t be crying if he doesn’t.”

Andy Irvine enjoyed a birthday winner after Dylanseoghan held on in a desperate finish to the Howden Sport And Equine Insurance Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Chase.

Under Page Fuller the veteran resisted What A Moment and the strong-finishing Tzar De L’elfe by a short head and a neck, and the winning jockey said: “Coming into the last I wasn’t sure that I was on a stride, but he winged it and was a lot happier back on good ground.

“You never know how the long-distance chases here are going to pan out, but he stayed on all the way up the straight. I’m delighted for Andy.”

Irvine was equally thrilled, and commented of the 12-1 winner: “I think a combination of a change of headgear and the better ground helped him. He got stuck in the mud last time.”

The drying ground played to the strengths of Fairway Freddy (7-2) who apart from one minor error put in a superb round of jumping to land the Handicap Chase by four and a quarter lengths from Flaminger.

His trainer Nick Gifford said: “He loves this ground and has won three times on good/good to firm. This is his cup of tea, and he was so well at home I’m not surprised he’s won like that.”

Ayr Of Elegance (100-30 favourite) landed some good bets to come home a cosy winner of the Irish Thoroughbred Marketing Mares’ Handicap Hurdle for trainer David Jeffreys and jockey Kielan Woods.

Woods said: “When we tried cheek pieces it didn’t work, but she ran off the end of the gallop the other day and she never does that, so we knew she was super well.”

The market told the story in the Call Star Spirts On 08000 521 321 Handicap Hurdle as 13-8 favourite Midnight Aurora gained an effortless 12-length success over First Assembly and One For Dunstan.