Imperial Cup Preview

Saturday’s Imperial Cup at Sandown is very much an appetiser for the Cheltenham festival next week and has attracted a field of 26 runners. The ante-post Imperial Cup betting was left in limbo after a warning that the favourite Mr Mole was not a certain starter. He is the first horse that Irish multi-millionaire has had in training with Paul Nicholls and is very hard to assess after just four runs. He is also prominent in the betting for the County Hurdle and is potentially lined up for a £75,000 bonus if he could win both races The handicapper has put him up 12lbs for bringing an end to the winning streak of David Pipe’s Home Run at Taunton in February, leaving him to shoulder 11st 9lb.

David Pipe has followed in the tradition of his father by farming this race over the years and is represented by Tanerko Emery and Kazlian. The latter has shown little in two starts this season but was not suited by the heavy ground and would be a threat if returning to the form that saw him finish fourth at last year’s festival. Tanerko Emery ran a good race when third in the Welsh Champion Hurdle last month but shoulders top weight here. Pipe has booked 7lb claimer Kieron Edgar to reduce the burden.

Nicky Henderson’s stable were in flying form at last year’s festival and all the signs are that he is in for another successful week. He also has three entries on Saturday in General Miller, Lyvius and First In The Queue. None of them have shown much sparkle recently and jockey plans may provide a clue as to which is their best chance here. Barry Geraghty has sided with General Miller but connections have voiced concern over the softening ground. Jonjo O’Neill runs his useful novice Tominator, winner of the Northumberland Plate when trained by veteran Reg Hollinshead on the flat. He was also third in the Cesarewitch and shapes as though he may need further over hurdles. His hurdling has also been less than fluent and he may struggle in this packing field.

John Ferguson’s Pine Creek has been well supported this week as he moves into handicap company for the first time. He was not particularly impressive when grinding out a victory at Doncaster but there could be improvement to come. A better run is also expected from Claret Cloak who finished a good third to Raya Star at Ascot but ran moderately in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. Alan King’s Valdez has put together a couple of decent runs and Barizan bounced back to form when beating Home Run last time out.

Shammick Boy got the better of Whitby Jack at Chepstow last month but displayed an awkward head carriage when asked to go about his work. The runner-up had previously let down his supporters when favourite at Ascot. Paintball produced a career best to take this valuable prize last season but his form has gone to pieces since. He has presumably been freshened up for this race but it would take a giant leap of faith to support him on his recent efforts.

Bet365 make Mr Mole 3-1 favourite but there may be better value in each-way selections Claret Cloak (16-1) and Pine Creek (8-1).

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