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Vibrato Valtat to thwart Regal Encore in Imperial Cup

Sandown’s Imperial Cup provides the last chance for Regal Encore to earn a place in the field for next week’s County Hurdle at Cheltenham. The gelding was second in the Champion bumper last season but suffered a shock defeat when beaten by 66-1 chance Seeyouatmidnight at Hexham.

The winner has gone on to win a Grade 2 event at Haydock and eagle-eyed punters clearly think Regal Encore is on a useful handicap mark.  Anthony Honeyball has warned that the horse usually takes time to recover from his races so Cheltenham is looking increasingly unlikely.

Regal Encore may be well in at the weights but he is opposed by another possible handicap blot in Vibrato Valtat. The Paul Nicholls-trained grey won with embarrassing ease at Exeter last month, defeating a useful sort in Tigris.

The French import is running off a 9lb higher mark than when beaten in a Kempton handicap but his last run suggested significant improvement. He also holds an entry in the County Hurdle but Nicholls has elected to run him here in place of Lac Fontana and that could be significant.

Swing Bowler is a surprise declaration for David Pipe as the mare has several tempting Cheltenham entries. She ran a fine race in the Betfair Hurdle after a lengthy absence to finish fifth behind Splash Of Ginge.

Pipe also runs Baltimore Rock who has not been out of the first four in seven career starts. Most of his form is on heavy ground so connections will be hoping that the ground does not dry out too much.

There was a lot of money early in the week for John Ferguson’s New Year’s Eve. He has won three of his last four races, the last two wearing a hood.

He was second in the Champion bumper in 2012 and has always threatened to win a good race such as this. Charlie Longsdon runs the four-year-old Harristown, a shock 20-1 winner at Huntingdon last time out.

Last year’s winner First Avenue is 25-1 to repeat the performance after losing his form completely while Nicky Henderson runs Fourth Estate. 14 runners are set to go to post with the race due off at 3.15 on Saturday.