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Imperial Cup: Seebald on the bonus trail; But Pipe team fear Imperial Cup favourite may have too much weight.

CHELTENHAM may still be a few days away, but thoughts of the Festival will loom large at Sandown today as Seebald bids to justify his position as warm favourite for the Sunderlands Imperial Cup.

The unbeaten novice shoulders top weight of 11st 10lb in the pounds 33,000 contest - and his connections have expressed serious misgivings about the handicapper's rating.

Surprisingly, Tony McCoy's mount is Martin Pipe's only challenger following the withdrawals of Hit And Run, Auetaler, Copeland, Dr Jazz and Exit Swinger.

But it will hardly have gone unnoticed that if Seebald were successful, he would have the chance of landing a pounds 50,000 bonus awarded by the sponsors to a horse who wins the Imperial Cup and follows up in any race at next week's Cheltenham Festival.

Pipe has achieved the double twice - with Olympian (1993) and Blowing Wind (1998) - and yesterday Coral cut Seebald's odds for Thursday's County Hurdle from 8-1 to 5-1.

However, connections believe the handicapper may have prevented Seebald from becoming the trainer's third big bonus-winner, even though his price shortened during the week

from 7-2 to a top-priced 2-1 this morning.

Graham Bradley, who bought Seebald and then sold him to footballing owners Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, said yesterday: "When I was riding for the Dickinsons there

was always a feeling the handicapper added 7lb - and one has to think the same thing is happening to Mr Pipe. Seebald has been very impressive, but to have top weight off a mark of 137 in the Imperial Cup seems mad to me.

"Solo Mio, who Seebald beat at Newbury last time, went on to win easily, but he was upped in trip for his victory and I'm sure he ran a lot better than he had against us. The third at Newbury was only rated 110.

"I knew Seebald would take to hurdling when I bought him, as I rode him there and then and he did everything right. Hopefully he'll win at Sandown, but he's a silly price even if he bolts up.

"The boys [Fowler and McManaman] can't be at Sandown, but their families are going. If all goes well, Robbie and Steve will definitely come to Cheltenham."

Mersey Beat, Minivet, Coulthard, Redemption, The Gatherer, Dhaudeloup, Majesty, Galapino and Magic Combination are today's other runners in with a chance of the pounds 50,000 bonus.

Paul Webber, who came close to the big double in 1997 when Carlito Brigante took the Imperial Cup before being beaten a length by Barna Boy in the County Hurdle, is responsible for the novice Redemption, and the trainer said: "He's on top of his game and must have a squeak.

"We ran him at Ludlow last time to get him used to going right-handed - he went up 5lb for winning tidily."

Tim Easterby relies on Minivet, the winner of four races this season. Easterby said: "He was a tremendous claim off the Flat and I'm very hopeful he'll run well. He's up in class but it's worth a go - he might just prefer softer ground."

Pam Sly runs Coulthard off a 1lb higher mark than when beaten a short head by Regency Rake in the race 12 months ago.

"He's got a chance, but my horses have been suffering from a bacterial infection and haven't been finishing once they've come under pressure," she said. "He seems fine, but only the race will tell."

Owner J P McManus has two runners - Arthur Moore's The Gatherer and Frank Berry's Brigade Charge.

Moore said: "He's in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham, but is 6lb out of the handicap as things stand, so we decided to run him at Sandown, as he'll be racing off his proper mark.

"He's well and we'll wait and see how he gets on at Sandown before deciding if he runs at Cheltenham as well."
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Chapman, Matt
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Mar 11, 2000
Words:642
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