A look at the Imperial Cup and a few to note for the Cheltenham Festival

Imperial Cup Tips: A bumper field bid for glory at Sandown on Saturday.
Imperial Cup Tips: A bumper field bid for glory at Sandown on Saturday.

Our resident columnist Tanya Stevenson takes an in-depth look at the Imperial Cup at Sandown, and picks out a couple of eye-catchers for the Cheltenham Festival...

Tanya's Imperial Cup Tip

Leoncavallo at 8/1 with bet365

Ready to go Bonus Hunting?  I already think last week’s bet365 Morebattle Hurdle winner, The Shunter, has every chance to scoop a big pot courtesy of following up at Cheltenham wherever connections decide to go.  Put that one on my Festival selection lists.  Now on the eve of the four days attentions are turned to Sandown and the Imperial Cup.  This year it is looking a shadow of its former self and many will be honing in on the obvious.  Natural History is a well-bred flat performer who is unexposed over hurdles.  He is trained by Gary Moore who since 1996 has had 22 runners in the Imperial Cup resulting in four thirds and two seconds, one of those thirds back in 2012 was none other than Sire de Grugy.  Natural History isn’t as good as him yet as that mighty performer won a Grade 2 on his fifth hurdle race.  

Natural History appeals to most on potential, the weight differential between him and some more exposed and established types see him head the market, remember though the last winning favourite of this race was Qaspal in 2010.  That said seven favourites have won in the last 20 years with the most open renewal 2011 where they bet 7-1 the field, nothing like that here.

If Natural History won it would be highly unlikely that he’d get into the County Hurdle for the bonus, so this race can be considered his main target.

He carries 10-12 and over the last 30 years only five horse have carried 11-0 or more to victory.  Miranda, Diego Du Charmil, Fransham, Leoncavallo, Highway One O Two, Mick Maestro and Malaya may have and added burden.  Particularly Miranda under top weight as Blowing Wind in 1998 is the only horse to carry top weight since Lanzarote in 1973!

Cheltenham Festival Tips

Another plus for Natural History and Langer Dan is ten of the last 14 winners had run no more than eight times over hurdles.  I believe Dan and Harry Skelton are going to have a great Cheltenham Festival, particularly on the first day.  Both Allmankind who looked spectacular on his schooling on Twitter and Roksana who I thought ought to run in the Stayers’ Hurdle, she is that good.  Instead, though she is off to regain her 2019 crown in the Mares’ Hurdle.  I digress.

Dan Skelton has Langer Dan in the Imperial Cup who has already attained a valiant and respectable sixth at last year’s Cheltenham Festival in the Boodles Juvenile Hurdle.  Since then he hasn’t lived up to that run in three starts this season.  I’ve reviewed his latest Market Rasen effort in February, it was better but not as eye-catching as reported.   He still has to reverse form with Miss Heritage and Mick Maestro.  And that’s the issue the majority have interwoven form with each other and its hard to extract them away from a particular link which makes their chances fragile at best.  At least with Natural History he is fresh, he has flat speed and potential and a weight that a big run seems inevitable.

There was a time that an entry from Martin Pipe or more recently David Pipe meant it would be shoe-horned into favouritism with immediacy, they became the Punter’s Pal in this race and between them they are the only trainers whose horses have gone on to claim the bonus.  Martin did it with Olympian and Blowing Wind.  David with the last mare to win Gaspara.  David Pipe has had six favourites for the race, with three of those going on to win and his 17 runners have produced three winners, two seconds, a third and a fourth.  Today he has Eamon An Cnoic and Leoncavallo.  

Now seeing that I have focused my attentions on Leoncavallo to win the last race at the Festival it would figure he would be my selection here.  He is not the normal stereotype for the race, he is well exposed, he has plenty of weight but he is class and he isn’t tainted with the recent form of the rivals.  He has run in plenty of graded races and been to three Cheltenham Festivals, best finish fifth in the 2015 Triumph.  He has though had a good rest and is proven to go well fresh.  

Last time we saw him he gallantly trying to kick on from the front with Not So Sleepy in the Cesarewitch, in the end he finished sixth, a mighty fair effort.  His latest exploits over hurdles was back in November 2019 when he finished fourth to Not So Sleepy conceding 21lb to that rival.  He has since won over the bigger obstacles in July last year but it is intriguing an opportunity is sort here with the history of the Pipe’s the bonus and the Imperial Cup.  Could Leoncavallo call the tune for a perfect Pipe ten.  I hope so.

Imperial Cup
Leoncavallo silk

Leoncavallo

Non-Runner
Cheltenham Festival Races
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