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Thursday, 5 March 2015

Imperial Cup Preview

The William Hill Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle, run over a testing 2 miles and 110 yards at Sandown Park, has produced four winning favourites and a couple more winners at single-figure prices in the last 10 years. However, winners at 20/1 (twice), 12/1 and 10/1 in the same period – not to mention a maximum field of 24 runners, as usual – provide cause for optimism as far as this column is concerned.

Raven’s Tower (40/1) hasn’t shown a great deal in three starts so far this season, but is only 1lb higher in the weights than when sixth of twenty-four, beaten 5¼ lengths, in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last March. The Raven’s Pass gelding subsequently won a 0-135 contest over 2 miles at Ascot and had previously won a couple of times on soft going so, if the first-time blinkers have the desired effect, he could go well at generous odds.

Another that catches the eye is Alistair Whillans’ beautifully-bred, but relatively lightly-raced 6-year-old Meadowcroft Boy (33/1). The Kayf Tara gelding makes the long journey south from Newmill-On-Slitrig in the Scottish Borders and, although he needs to improve on the form he’s shown over hurdles so far, his chance may not be as forlorn as his odds suggest. Certainly, his latest third, beaten 8¾ lengths, behind subsequent Grade 2 winner Glingerburn over 2 miles 2 furlongs at Kelso last month was a creditable effort. He, too, has winning form over 2 miles on soft ground on a testing track, so he has plenty going for him, especially if he can learn to settle better in the early part of his races.

Another lightly-raced contender, Tom George’s 6-year-old gelding Some Buckle (18/1) was only beaten a short head by Glingerburn at Doncaster on his penultimate start and, with the winner now officially rated 152 by the BHA, looks ‘thrown in’ off a mark off 135, despite his novice status. The son of St. Leger winner Milan could find no extra in the closing stages when fifth, beaten 7½ lengths, behind Ordo Ab Chao over 2 miles 4½ furlongs at Cheltenham six weeks ago but, dropping back in distance, is so attractively weighted on his return to handicap company that he cannot be ignored.

Having somewhat pooh-poohed the chance of last week’s Grimthorpe Chase winner, Wayward Prince, I have reminded myself of the ‘glorious uncertainty’ of racing and will be, ahem, a little more circumspect in future. Anyway, this week’s three against the field are, in order of preference, Some Buckle (18/1 with Bet365), Meadowcroft Boy (33/1 generally available) and Raven’s Tower (40/1 generally available). Good luck!