Malaya Could Be A Handicap Good Thing
Of course the whole jumps industry is obsessed with the Cheltenham Festival and rightly so. It’s the best race meeting in the world and provides four days of excessive gambling. It’s by some distance the National Hunt meeting that matters most but the core season is much more about four days in March. The Imperial Cup at Sandown this Saturday is a competitive handicap hurdle in its own right and the outcome of the race can have implications for similar contests nest week.
The winner of the Imperial Cup receives a bonus for winning any race at the Cheltenham Festival the following week. The current sponsors have raised that prize to £100,000 which is a great incentive. It was attractive when the bonus was half that amount and Martin and David Pipe have won it in the past. The Sandown race is a two mile handicap hurdle so the Coral Cup, Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle and the County Hurdle are the races in which the bonus can be won.
The race has been given listed status and the decent prize money has attracted a large field. There is a maximum field of 22 runners and that will be oversubscribed. As a handicap with more than 16 runners bookmakers will settle each way bets at one quarter the odds for four places. Often some bookies offer more places for a Saturday feature and if you shop around you should get five payout places. At the time of writing bookmakers were going 6/1 the field so it’s a wide open contest.
In the last four years the winner has been aged five or six. No horse over the age of nine has won the race since 1947 and only two four-year-olds have won the Imperial Cup in the last 20 years. London Prize won the race in 2017 carrying 11-2 but every other winner since 2004 carried less than 11 stone. Ten jockeys have ridden the winner over the last decade and David Pipe is the leading trainer this century with four wins. Favourites don’t have a great record in the Imperial Cup.
Malaya is the only four-year-old in the declarations and will creep in at the bottom of the weights. As a young horse Malaya gets an eight pound weight allowance from horses aged five and older. On current ratings the horse has something to find but could be a blot on the handicap. Malaya has finished first or second on the last five starts. The horse is trained by Paul Nicholls and he has never won the Imperial Cup but Malaya looks a good prospect to break that duck.
The favourite is Whatswrongwithyou trained by Nicky Henderson. The trainer’s only win in the race was in 2009 when the winning horse was ridden by Barry Geraghty. The horse has been allocated 10-13 which would represent the best weight-carrying effort since 2009, except for last year’s winner. Whatswrongwithyou is a novice but inexperienced horses that are good enough can often win these handicap hurdles. The horse is not exposed and there could be more to come but that is reflected in the odds.
On Racing Post Ratings Fidux has five pounds or more in hand over the rest of the field. The horse has won just two races in 10 starts and the last win was in November 2016. Fidux is more exposed than Malaya in handicaps so that horse can win the Imperial Cup and then be targeted at the Triumph Hurdle or one of the handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival.