Staged at Sandown racecourse the Imperial Cup in a hurdle race run over 2m 1/2f. Run just days before the start of the Cheltenham Festival the contest always takes has an added interest for punters and trainers as traditionally the race sponsors have traditional put up an extra £50,000 should the winner go onto land any festival race the following week – the 2020 race sponsors are leading bookmaker, Paddy Power.
In recent years that incentive has seen powerful stables like Henderson and Hobbs target the race, but it’s the Pipe yard that hold the best recent record – winning the race four times in the last 15 years and 9 times in all.
The last horses to win the Imperial Cup and then go onto land a Festival race the following week are Olympian (1993), Blowing Wind (1998) and Gaspara (2007). While the 2016 winner – Flying Angel – only just failed to land the bonus after running second in the Martin Pipe Conditionals race. The last three winners – Malaya, London Prize and Mr Antolini – didn’t go onto run at the Cheltenham Festival.
Here at RACING AHEAD we take a look back at recent winners and give you all the key stats to take into the 2021 renewal – this year run on Saturday 13th March.
Recent Imperial Cup Winners
2020 – Abandoned
2019 – MALAYA (7/1)
2018 – MR ANTOLINI (20/1)
2017 – LONDON PRIZE (10/1)
2016 – FLYING ANGEL (9/1)
2015 – EBONY EXPRESS (33/1)
2014 – BALTIMORE ROCK (7/1)
2013 – FIRST AVENUE (20/1)
2012 – PAINTBALL (20/1)
2011 – ALARAZI (10/1)
2010 – QASPAL (11/4 fav)
2009 – DAVE’S DREAM (12/1)
2008 – ASHKAZAR (10/3 fav)
2007 – GASPARA (11/4 fav)
2006 – VICTRAM (8/1)
2005 – MEDISON (9/2 fav)
2004 – SCORNED (14/1)
2003 – KORELO (9/4 fav)
Imperial Cup Betting Trends and Stats
16/17 – Had won no more than twice over hurdles before
16/17 – Had raced within the last 6 weeks
15/17 – Had won between 1-2 times over hurdles before
15/17 – Carried 10-13 or less
14/17 – Rated 124 or higher
13/17 – Aged 6 or younger
12/17 – Carried 10-7 or less
10/17 – Winners that went onto run at the Cheltenham Festival (1 winner, Gaspara – Fred Winter)
11/17 – Had won over at least 2m1f (hurdles) before
10/17 – Finished in the top two last time out
9/17 – Winning distance – 3 ½ lengths or more
8/17 – Returned a double-figure price in the betting
8/17 – Aged 4 or 5 years-old
6/17 – Raced at either Cheltenham (2), Sandown (2) or Ascot (2) last time out
6/17 – Won last time out
6/17 – French bred
5/17 – Winning favourites
5/17 – Had raced at Sandown (hurdles) before – 2 had won there before
5/17 – Won by the Pipe stable (have won it 9 times in all)
2/17 – Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies (2 of last 4)
1/17 – Won by an Irish-trained horse
The average winning SP in the last 17 years is 11/1
RACING AHEAD VERDICT: The Gary Moore-trained NATURAL HISTORY has been all the rage in the betting this week and it’s easy to see why. This former Royal runner has switched to hurdling this season and even though he took three races to get off the mark, his most recent run was impressive. They will be hoping the ground stays dry and even though he’s up 16lbs from that last run, he was a talented 97-rated flat horse that was second in a Group Three at Newbury back in October. Jamie Moore rides and with that confidence booster last time out, there is every chance this 6 year-old could still be ahead of the handicapper and then go onto bigger and better things. His proven flat speed will be a big plus and even though he’s taken a bit of a hold in his races, you feel in this better race they will go a bit quicker, which will help on that score. Of the rest, this race is always associated with the Pipe yard – who have won it 9 times in all and landed the bonus three times. Yes, don’t forget that sponsors Paddy Power put up a £50k bonus should the winner go onto land any Cheltenham Festival race next week. Gaspara, who was trained by the Pipes, was the last horse to win the bonus in 2007. They run Leoncavallo and Eamon An Cnoic here so both have to be respected. Of the two, the former was last seen running a fair 6th in the Cesarewitch at HQ and has won 6 of this 21 hurdles starts too. He’s been kept fresh for this since, but is a horse that goes well off a break – certainly one for the shortlist. The Nigel Twiston-Davies yard won this in 2016 and 2018, so their One True King will be hoping to add to that, while Paul Nicholls won the prize last year and tries to follow-up with Diego Du Charmil and Miranda running for him. The last-named was a tidy winner last time at Doncaster but will have a lot of weight to carry with 11st 12lbs – 15 of the last 17 winners won with 10-13 or less. Actually 12 of the last 17 winners also won with 10-7 or less, so that would be a plus for just two in the race – HASANABAD (e/w) and the other Pipe runner – Eamon An Cnoic. The first-named might be worth an interest then with that light weight and comes from the Ian Williams yard that won this in 2017. Sean Bowen has been booked to ride and seems to act will on this better ground. A recent third at Newbury was a fair effort and even though more is needed on that, his got a light burden and that last run was his first run over hurdles this year so is sure to have got his eye back in. Of the rest, Highway One O Two, Mick Maestro and the Skelton runner Langer Dan are others to note, especially the latter, who caught the eye of many when running on well at Market Rasen last time out after a 4 month break – he’s got entries in the County Hurdle and Martin Pipe next week too, but I can’t help keep coming back to the fact Skelton is 0-from-28 here with his hurdlers.
This month’s Paddy Power Imperial Cup does tend to get a bit overshadowed by Cheltenham, as it’s always run on the Saturday before the Festival.
However, for many, it’s also one of the triggers that denotes the best four days of jumps action is just around the corner!
This month, the Paddy Power Imperial Cup will be staged on Saturday 13th March and another thing that’s always associated with this race is the bonus the sponsors put up should the winner go onto land ‘ANY’ Cheltenham race at the Festival the following week.
At the time of writing, I’m not 100% about the bonus, but knowing the way Paddy Power love a marketing angle, then it would be a big shock if it’s not on offer as usual.
Over the years, we’ve seen three horses land the famous double and they were all trained by the Pipes – two by Martin (Olympian 1993 and Blowing Wind 1998) and one by David (Gaspara 2007).
In 2016, the winner – Flying Angel – also went close by running second in the Martin Pipe Conditionals race, but the last three winners of the Imperial Cup failed to make it to Cheltenham.
Twelve months ago, we also saw this Imperial Cup meeting cancelled due to a waterlogged track – the first time that’s happened to the race since 1975. Fingers crossed they get back on track this month!
Right, so what are the key trends to look out for?
Weight – Being a handicap, then weight carried is a good place to start. In the last 17 runnings a massive 15 winners carried 10st 13lbs or less, so make this your cut-off. If, however, you want to take this weight stat a bit further then it could pay to know that 12 of the last 17 winners actually only had 10st 7lbs or less.
Recent Hurdles Wins – You might be slightly surprised to know that 16 of the last 17 winners had won no more than twice over hurdles in the past. This sort of backs up the weight trend that lesser, unexposed hurdlers, that the handicapper probably hasn’t quite got a grip of yet, tend to do well.
Current Form – Coming into the race off the back of a good recent run is another trend to note. 16 of the last 17 winners had raced in the last six weeks, plus 10 of the last 17 successful horses finished in the first two in their most recent race.
Age – In 2013 and 2018 we saw 8 year-olds win the race, but really the younger horses have dominated. 13 of the last 17 (76%) winners were aged 6 or younger, with five of the last six winners aged either 5 or 6 years-old. Since 1984, there’s only been one winner aged 9, while I’ve gone back to 1947 and can’t find a winner aged in double-figures
Favourites – In the last 17 runnings the average winning SP has been 11/1, while we’ve seen five winning favourites (29%), which is not too bad a strike-rate considering the competitive nature of the race. However, there is a small word of caution here as the last of those winning market leaders was back in 2010, so we are currently on a stretch of nine races with a winning jolly.
Top Stables – It’s a race that ‘big gun’ stables of Nicky Henderson (2009) and Paul Nicholls (2019) have only landed once each, but it goes without saying anything they run should always be respected. The Nigel Twiston-Davies yard have done well, winning two of the last four, but as mentioned in the intro, it’s the Pipe yard that have dominated in recent times. Martin Pipe won the race six times during his training career, while since taking over the Pond House reins, son David is hot on his heels with three wins.
RACING AHEAD VERDICT: With a £100k bonus up for grabs here should a horse win this and go onto land any Festival race next week then there is a big carrot for runners. MALAYA (e/w), who won the race last year, will be looking to become the first back-to-back Imperial Cup winner since High Point, who won the race in 1952 and 53 – he didn’t run at the Festival the following week though. He’s rated only 2lbs higher than last year, but will have the useful Bryan Carver in the saddle to claim 5lbs, so is actually slightly better off at the weights than last year, but it is worth noting that he only had 10-2 on his back 12 months ago and will have 11-8 (less 5lbs) this time – I still think last year’s winner has a good chance after running with promising last time out. Nicholls also has Tamaroc Du Mathan in the race. We can probably expect the front-running Totterdown to try and make all but with 11-12 in weight that will be a tough ask in the ground. However, with 15 of the last 17 winners carrying 10-13 or less, then this trend only brings in 7 of the 19 runners – Endlessly, Applesandpierres, Shakem Up’ Arry, Main Fact, Ashington, Aiguille Rouge and Man Of Plenty. Of that bunch the Pipe-trained Main Fact has been popular all week – mainly due to the yard having a top record in the race – they’ve won it 9 times in total. Main Fact has won his last four, including the latest of those at Wetherby only on Monday. He’s up another 4lbs here but jockey Fergus Gillard remains in the saddle to claim 7lbs. He could easily be well ahead of the handicapper still and is entered in the County Hurdle next week at the Festival. However, the value might have gone with him and this will be a much harder test. With that in mind, I’m going to side with the Ben Pauling runner – SHAKEM UP’ARRY – who is owned by a certain Harry Redknapp. He was only 11 lengths behind next week’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner – Shishkin – and that could turn out to be a solid effort. This will only be his fifth career run and after a quiet season so far there are signs the Ben Pauling yard are starting to find their feet again. Mack The Man, Dostal Phil and Sir Valentine are others to consider.