Aegean Eyeing Big Handicap Double

There are some 40 horses entered at the five-day stage for Saturday’s Paddy Power Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle at Sandown Park, but it is highly likely that most punters won’t be looking much further than the unbeaten Aegean Dawn for their idea of the winner and the horse most likely to head to the Cheltenham Festival next week with the chance of landing a juicy £75,000 bonus for connections, writes Elliot Slater.

Saturday’s race sponsors Paddy Power are tempting trainers with the bonus once again, a pot not landed since David Pipe’s Gaspara did the double by winning the 2007 Imperial Cup and then the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival five days later.

With only Pipe’s Ronaldo Des Mottes rated above him in the handicap Aegean Dawn is sure to have to shoulder a big weight at Sandown, but there will be many who will reckon that he is more than up to the task having won all four career outings including at Cheltenham on November 12 in a 23-runner handicap hurdle, then again at Ascot seven days later where he got the better of live Champion Hurdle contender Mille Chief to announce himself as a horse very much on the up. The Cheltenham 2011 tips suggest is has more than enough about him to win at the Festival, but a lot could depend on what happens in his first race.

Raised 26lbs to a mark of 145 since his four-and-a-half length defeat of Mille Chief, (who in hindsight had a near impossible task in trying to concede Henderson’s gelding 22lbs), Aegean Dawn, should he win on Saturday, would then have the option of bidding for either the County Hurdle or the Coral Cup, both races potentially qualifying him for the bonus. A punt on Aegean landing the double could be an attractive alternative for anyone currently struggling to pick a fancy in the Cheltenham Gold Cup betting.

A rock solid 4/1 favourite for the Imperial Cup, the Alflora gelding is offered at 18/1 to complete a Sandown/Cheltenham double for those brave enough to believe he can indeed repeat the success of Gaspara five seasons ago.