Regal Encore was touted as a genuine Supreme Novices' Hurdle contender in the early part of the season as last year's Champion Bumper runner-up was trying to stamp his authority on the jumping game, but he has failed to reach those dizzy heights and will look for handicap glory on Saturday in the Imperial Cup at Sandown Park.
A winner at Plumpton at prohibitive odds, he was then beaten when a hot favourite for a Hexham contest, but having had a break he is set to take his place in this contest before a potential tilt at one of the tough handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival.
Paul Nicholls will unleash Vibrato Voltat who was impressive when winning at Exeter last time out and shaped as if he could be ahead of the handicapper and could be one of the biggest dangers to Regal Encore in this competitive betting heat for punters to get stuck into.
David Pipe's Swing Bowler ran creditably when finishing fixth of 20 in the Betfair Hurdle after nearly a year off the track and she will aim to bag another Imperial Cup for the Pond House team, whilst Baltimore Rock was a superb winner last time out and warrants respect into a race that oozes potential.
First Avenue was a shock winner of the race 12 months ago and he is set to try and retain his crown, whilst New Year's Eve has finally shown ability over timber after disappointing in the early part of his national hunt career and could be a danger if continuing on that upward curve.
Of the others, Richard Lee's Gassin Golf has been running consistently into a place of late, but has struggled to get his head in front, whilst Little Jon and Somemothersdohavem will need to produce career bests to feature in this intriguing renewal.
9/4 Regal Encore
7/2 Vibrato Voltat
8/1 New Year's Eve
10/1 Baltimore Rock
10/1 Swing Bowler
14/1 Fourth Estate
14/1 Gassin Golf
16/1 Little Jon
25/1 First Avenue
25/1 Knight Of Pleasure
40/1 Chesil Beach Boy
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The Imperial Cup is a Listed handicap hurdle race run at Sandown Park over two miles, 110 yards for horses aged four years or older.
Established in 1907, it was one of the most important hurdle races of the entire national hunt calendar and would attract some of the leading hurdling stars to competed for the coveted prize.
However, it can now be used as a springboard to the Cheltenham Festival and you often see horses who have competed in the Imperial Cup going on to the Festival the following week to take part in one of the competitive hurdle contests.
Usually connections can win a bonus if their horse can win the Imperial Cup and then go on to be victorious at Cheltenham, with recent winners including Olympian, who won the 1993 Imperial Cup before going on to win the Coral Cup for Martin Pipe.
More recently, Blowing Wind managed to win the 1998 renewal before lifting the County Hurdle crown, whilst Gaspara won the 2007 running before going to Prestbury Park and bagging glory in the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle for David Pipe.
The Pipe dynasty have always had an affiliation with the race with Martin winning the race six times during his illustrious career, whilst it didn't take long for son David to emulate those sort of achievements notching up two victories in quick succession in 2007 and 2008.