Last year the race disappointingly had no bonus attached to it however the new sponsor of the Imperial Cup announced last month that a £50,000 bonus will be awarded should the winner of the contest go on to win any race at the Cheltenham Festival the following week.
Here are some trends and statistics to consider based on the last ten renewals:
As you can see horses in the four to six-year-old bracket have fared the best in recent years winning eight of the last ten renewals.
Horses carrying 10st 10lb or more: 3-12-86
Horses carrying 10st 9lb or less: 7-6-113
With only two of the thirteen runners declared having 10st 9lb or less it is highly improbable that this weight bracket trend will continue. Supporters of Chieftain’s Choice and Not Another Muddle will be hoping it comes to fruition again.
Record of the top weight in the last ten years: 0000F32746. Horses with top weights have been figuring recently but without winning.
Official Ratings (Win-Place-Runners)
Horses rated 132 or higher: 2-8-70
Horses rated 121 to 131: 8-17-112
Horses rated 120 or lower: 0-3-17
It is interesting to note that over the last ten years, eight wins have come from horses rated between 124-131. It may be worth taking on the top five in the handicap once again.
Fixe Le Kap
Finished eighth in last year's Fred Winter at The Festival and could be fairly treated on a hurdles mark of 138. He ran the top-class novice chaser Frodon very close when just denied at Haydock Park in February 2016. Will probably go off at fairly slim odds.
The eight-year-old has not won since Wetherby in November 2015, but he has been running consistently well this season. His form behind Brain Power and Consul De Thaix at Sandown in December reads very well in the context of this race. He ran a blinder when fifth to Ballyandy in the Betfair Hurdle last time out.
William H Bonney
Alan King’s runner found Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle came too soon after his win at Cheltenham two weeks earlier. Has had a month off to get back to full fitness and must be a serious contender if he reproduces that earlier Cheltenham form.
Ran third of 17 in a big handicap won by Ivan Grozny at Aintree last April before securing a comeback win at Kempton over Christmas. He did not enjoy the testing conditions at Cheltenham last time out and will be much better suited by Sandown on Saturday.
Fell early doors in the Betfair Hurdle after being well supported at some large prices. He generally jumps well and will have no issues with the ground. Jockey Richard Patrick takes off a valuable 7lbs.
Max Do Brazil
Max Do Brazil represents the Pipe stable that used to cream this race at one time. The five-year-old ran disappointingly on his British debut but could easily bounce right back. He was an expensive purchase from France and hails from the same connections as the Grand National favourite – Vieux Lion Rouge.
London Prize still hadn’t been asked a serious question when falling at Musselburgh on his last run over hurdles. He has run well on the all-weather since and should have more to offer. Very interesting that he bypassed last week’s Greatwood Hurdle in favour of this race.
Spice Fair returns in a bid to improve on last year's third-place finish in the race. He has won just one race in the NH sphere after doing most of his campaigning on the flat. He tends to run into a place at large odds and is one for the exacta and trifecta aficionados out there.
Holds decent course form but he does not stand out as the most obvious of picks in this field. Clearly in good heart however after two decent Chase second places.
The trainer and jockey have been in red hot form in the last fortnight and this seven-year-old gelding makes a quick return to the races after finishing second at Lingfield last Monday. The drop in distance here is a worry however as he generally needs some rousting to get involved in his races late on.
One of two runners for trainer Gary Moore in the race. The five-year-old has been put to good use over the winter, winning a Lingfield maiden over a mile and a half on his penultimate start and now returns to hurdling off just a 6lb higher mark than when successful in November.
Chieftain’s Choice was well backed to win the Betfair Hurdle a few seasons back when trained by John Quinn and was quite a useful sort. He is now trained by Kevin Frost and is on a handy mark if he could recapture some of his old form and build upon his last time out win.
Not Another Muddle
The second of the Gary Moore runners and by no means the second-string. In fact it is pretty difficult to split the pair even on riding arrangements. Decent runs at Fontwell and Plumpton however may not amount to much when facing much stiffer opposition here at Sandown.
It may be as well on the eve of the Cheltenham Festival to keep your powder dry and save all your cash for next week. However this is a fairly decent handicap to have a go at and you can put your tipping skills through their final paces- call it “last minute training”.
William H Bonney is one of the class acts in the field and Sandown looks to be the kind of track he will excel at. Alan King is a formidable trainer and this horse is always well plotted. King’s very own Billy The Kid could quite easily shoot down his rivals on Saturday afternoon and take home the rich spoils.
Selection: William H Bonney (e/w).