Statistics and trends (based on the last 15 renewals)
15/15 – Had won no more than twice over hurdles before
14/15 – Had won between 1-2 times over hurdles before
14/15 – Had raced within the last 6 weeks
13/15 – Carried 10-13 or less
12/15 – Aged 6 or younger
12/15 – Rated 124 or higher
The weight trends for this race are particularly interesting as based on those facts alone you would be tempted to discount Call Me Lord, Chti Balko, Whatswrongwithyou, Le Patriote, Huntsman Son and Fidux.
Age would also be a negative for the well fancied Whatswringwithyou.
The last five winners
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
Some of the contenders
Call Me Lord tops the 17 runners still declared for Saturday’s Imperial Cup at Sandown Park, a 2 mile handicap hurdle regarded as the last big hoorah before the Cheltenham Festival.
The five-year-old is one of two runners for Nicky Henderson, who also fields ante-post favourite Whatswrongwithyou in the contest, which offers the winner a rather tasty £100,000 bonus if they can follow up in any race at The Festival next week.
Whatswrongwithyou certainly looks like a candidate who could push the bonus incentive close. He is entered in both the County Hurdle and the Martin Pipe next week and he could easily figure even with an extra penalty incurred on Saturday.
He was beaten a length by Ainchea over course and distance in December and the form of that race has looked strong since. He is currently sitting on a mark of 139 after recording back-to-back Newbury wins with a nine-length verdict over Rockpoint last time out.
Dr Richard Newland, who won this contest 2015 with Ebony Express, immediately earmarked this race for Le Patriote (nap) after his win at Ascot last month.
Le Patriote won with a lot more in hand than the official distance of a length in last month's Ascot race and he should confirm superiority over runner-up Friday Night Light.
David Pipe is the trainer of Friday Night Light and the Pipe name is synonymous with trying to land this double, with Gaspara being the last horse to do so in 2007.
Silver Streak should enter into calculations based on the form of his good second to Hunters Call in the Grade Three Racing Welfare Handicap Hurdle at Christmas. He was unable to show his obvious potential in the Betfair Hurdle when unseating his pilot at the second.
Another horse chasing the Sandown-Cheltenham double is the John Quinn trained Master Of Irony, who has been given a break since finishing fourth in the Gerry Feilden at Newbury in December.
Alan King’s Fidux has run all his best races at Sandown and looks the obvious each-way type. Fidux won twice as a juvenile hurdler before going to Cheltenham for The Festival, where he ran in the Fred Winter. Although not making the frame on that occasion, he finished third to Call Me Lord and Dolos in his next race on Jumps Finale day at Sandown.
Kerry Lee’s Gassin Golf would have to defy the no horse older than 8-y-o winning since 1984 hoodoo but the gelding does appear to reserve some of his best races for the Esher track finishing in the frame four times from five attempts.
Jockey Richard Patrick’s 5lb claim could prove to be more than useful and there will certainly be a lot worse 20/1 shots around on Saturday.
Harry Whittington is seeking a fourth win in as many starts this season with Octagon, a horse who has worked his way up from sellers. Whittington reports the eight-year-old to be in “great shape”.
Highway One O One has not been seen since Boxing Day at Fontwell and has the option of running in either this race or the EBF final on the same card. Chris Gordon is not the type to shirk away from a challenge and he may well chance his hand here with the six-year-old. The gelding has certainly been supported well in the betting.
Huntsman Son has been holding his form pretty well this season and his second place to Remiluc in the desperate ground at Cheltenham last time showed he is an out-and-out battler.
Chti Balko was once considered good enough to run in the Grade One novice hurdle at Aintree but has never quite hit those heights. He could however get his ground this weekend and we could see a different horse here. The handicapper hasn’t still got him on a mark of 140 for nothing.
888sport suggests: Le Patriote (each way)
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*