Big Race History: Imperial Cup
The Imperial Cup, run at Sandown the weekend before Cheltenham, was once the premier hurdle race in the calendar. Although that honour now belongs to the Champion Hurdle, the Imperial remains a prestigious race and has a subsidiary role as the first leg of a valuable bonus offered by the sponsors, says Malcolm Pannett.
In 1875 Sandown Park became one of the first courses to be enclosed. The experiment, which meant that the genteel could attend without their sensibilities being offended by the uncouth, proved to be a great success and soon a proliferation of 'Park' courses followed including the nearby Hurst Park and Kempton Park. The Eclipse Stakes was inaugurated seven years later and in 1907 the first Imperial Cup was run, five years after the institution of Empire Day.
Trespasser, the greatest hurdler of his generation, won three times in a row (1920-22) under jockey George Duller who would go on to win the first Champion Hurdle in 1927 on Blaris.
No horse has won twice since the post-war successes of Secret Service (1949 and 50) and High Point (1952 and 53).
Notable winners include Lanzarote (1973), who went on to win the 1974 Champion Hurdle; Flash Imp (1974), twice placed in the Champion Hurdle; Ekbalco (1981), third in For Auction's Champion Hurdle; and Floyd (1985), who in the same season added the County Hurdle in the pre-bonus era.
The 1977-winner Acquaint was ridden by current trainer Nicky Hendrson, while King Credo (1991) was owned by 'Likely Lad' and New Tricks actor James Bolam.
In modern times the bonus, offered by the sponsors, Sunderlands, for any horse who could win the Imperial Cup and then any race at the Cheltenham Festival has proved a juicy carrot for team Pipe.
Martin won it with Olympian (1983), who added the Coral Cup, and then Blowing Wind (1998) who completed the double in the County Hurdle. In 2007 son David emulated his father with Gaspara who added the Fred Winter Hurdle to his Imperial Cup success.
Paddy Power who has taken over sponsorship for the 2009 renewal is continuing the bonus scheme.
25 years ago: Dalbury gained his third success of the 1983/84 season when he collared Rushmoor after the last hurdle to win by a neck at 9-2 favourite. A useful performer, Dalbury was campaigned in the top flight in his novice chase season three years later and was involved in a memorable afternoon at Ascot on that rarity nowadays, a midweek meeting covered by the BBC. In the Golden Eagle Novices' Chase, with Smart Tar and Hill's Guard already out of the race, Dalbury came down four from home. Alongside him, market-leader Tawridge also fell, bringing down second-favourite Tickite Boo which left Foyle Fisherman to beat Gala's Image with First Bout a distant third of three to finish. An hour later Desert Orchid rallied to beat Gold Bearer in the Peregrine Handicap Chase giving the runner-up 36lb.
10 years ago: A cracking finish with Regency Rake, Coulthard and Dr Jazz all at it hammer and tongs from the last flight to the line. Regency Rake just prevailed by a short head despite Adrian Maguire losing an iron in the last few strides. The Tony McCoy-ridden Dr Jazz banged into Coulthard when hanging right but probably suffered more than the runner-up who was bigger in stature.
Five years ago: Andrew Balding's Scorned, who was clearly enjoying the soft going, had been well placed throughout and took up the running on the way to the penultimate flight. However Bold Bishop, ridden by Barry Geraghty, passed him to lead at the last, but Scorned responded well to Barry Fenton's urgings passing Bold Bishop on the run-in to win his first hurdle race at 14-1. At Cheltenham the ground was faster and Scorned struggled finishing 14th of 23 in the County Hurdle behind Sporazene.
Last Year: Timmy Murphy waited in front on the David Pipe-trained Ashkazar kicking for home in the straight and putting in a superb leap at the second last to win by three and a half lengths from Fredensborg and Albinus. Now running in the colours of David Johnson he had previously been owned by the Aga Khan on the flat and had run in the controversial Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris in which Eagle Mountain fell. Immediately installed as the favourite for the Fred Winter three days later, Ashkazar took up the running three hurdles from home. The son of Sadler's Wells though wandered off a straight line approaching the second last. Emma Lavelle's Crack Away Jack needed no second invitation and was produced by Paul Carberry to win by two-and-a-half lengths. Ashkazar recently won the Kingwell and is on course for a crack at the Champion Hurdle this time around.
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