Ante-post favourite Natural History is one of 15 horses declared for the Paddy Power Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday.
The prestigious handicap hurdle is the traditional feature the Saturday before the Cheltenham Festival and another competitive field has assembled for this year’s renewal.
Natural History, who carried the colours of the Queen when trained on the Flat by Andrew Balding, was a beaten favourite on his first two hurdling starts for Gary Moore.
However, the Nathaniel gelding made a mockery of an opening mark of 116 when bolting up on his handicap debut at Plumpton a couple of weeks ago and he is strongly fancied to follow up, despite a hefty rise in the weights.
Natural History’s closest rival in the betting is Dan Skelton’s Langer Dan, while Paul Nicholls saddles top-weight Miranda, as well as Diego Du Charmil and Malaya, winner of the race two year’s ago.
Martin Pipe and his son David have won the Imperial Cup on nine occasions between them and the Pond House team again have a couple of interesting contenders in Leoncavallo and Eamon An Cnoic.
Leoncavallo has not been seen in competitive action since finishing sixth in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket in October, while Eamon An Cnoic won over the course and distance just last month.
Mick Maestro (Nick Kent) and Highway One O Two (Chris Gordon) are also in the mix.
Grade Three honours are also up for grabs in the European Breeders’ Fund Paddy Power ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final.
Pipe’s Martinhal, who is on a hat-trick following successive wins at Exeter, heads a field of 18 runners.
Nicky Henderson has a couple of major players in Captain Morgs and Patroclus, as does Nigel Twiston-Davies, with The Mick Preston and Beauport both declared.
The Nicholls-trained Rainyday Woman tops 18 declared for the British Stallion Studs EBF Mares’ Standard Open NH Flat Race.
The six-year-old must concede weight all round in her bid to double her Listed tally, having already impressed at this level at Huntingdon on her latest outing.
The dangers include Henderson’s Tweed Skirt and Alan King’s Finest View.
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