Tony Martin has opted against a shot at the valuable Imperial Cup
PICTURE:Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos)
By Mark Scully 11:25AM 9 MAR 2017
ANTE-POST favourite Golden Spear does not feature among only 13 declarations for Saturday’s Matchbook Imperial Cup at Sandown.
Golden Spear’s Tony Martin-trained stablemate Tudor City was also not declared for the £70,000 handicap hurdle, which this year once again carries a reintroduced £50,000 bonus should any horse emulate the likes of Gaspara by winning the race before going on to score again at Cheltenham next week.
The Nicky Henderson-trained Fixe Le Kap will be allowed to take his chance, with Alan King’s William H Bonney also set for a shot at the valuable prize. Max Do Brazil, Gassin Golf and London Prize also feature.
Bet365 make Fixe Le Kap, who holds entries in the Coral Cup and Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham, their 4-1 favourite, ahead of William H Bonney at 5-1. The latter is entered in the Randox Health County Hurdle.
Sandown’s clerk of the course Andrew Cooper admitted the turn out is disappointing, but feels the problem of attracting runners in some of the season’s biggest handicap hurdles outside of Cheltenham is not confined to the Imperial Cup.
“I’m not entirely surprised that from an entry of 24 we’ve come down to 13 declarations but we’ve seen this in several of the big handicap hurdles this season, the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury being another example,” he said.
“In recent years we’ve had Imperial Cups with 14 or 15 runners, so it’s not always been a maximum field. The going is one factor that is out of our hands – I think we would have had more of the 24 stay in if we could have assured better ground than it’s going to be, although it shouldn’t be worse than soft, which is not unreasonable for early March.
“There’s maybe a wider issue as to what factors are at play with these type of races. We’re obviously very close to Cheltenham but this race always has been, so nothing has changed in that respect.
“At £70,000, it’s a valuable pot so I don’t think prize-money is an issue – I don’t look at it and think it would be a radically better race at £100,000. There are also the races at Kempton next week for horses balloted out of Cheltenham, so maybe that is playing a part in people’s plans.
“That said, we have a competitive, interesting field.”
The going on the hurdle course was described as soft, heavy in places on Thursday but with no further rain forecast, Cooper is expecting the heavy patches to dry out considerably.
“The lead word I would expect to be using over hurdles at the moment is soft but I fully expect us to lose the heavy in places maybe within the next 24 hours,” he said.
“It’s going to be a slightly dead soft in the absence of any appreciable rain for us, with the course slowly drying. We had 3mm in the day yesterday but we could well stay dry now through Saturday.”