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Regal Encore targets Imperial Cup boost to Cheltenham Festival hopes

Trainer Anthony Honeyball is tipping Regal Encore to bounce back from a surprise defeat at Hexham and boost his hopes of booking a return trip to the Cheltenham Festival by winning Saturday's William Hill Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday.

The six-year-old was a star performer in National Hunt Flat races last term, prevailing in fine style at Southwell and Chepstow before finishing second to Briar Hill in the Champion Bumper at Prestbury Park when sent off as joint-favourite.

Things have not gone according to plan since the JP McManus-owned gelding was put over hurdles, however, with a workmanlike success at Plumpton coming in between two odds-on defeats at Aintree and Hexham.

In hindsight, though, an initial loss to Garde La Victoire in Liverpool was far from a disgrace as Philip Hobbs' charge went on to oblige again at Warwick and has held his own in better company.

Meanwhile, Regal Encore's 66/1 Hexham conqueror Seeyouatmidnight went on to prove that was no fluke by scoring by nine lengths at Musselburgh and then taking a Grade 2 contest at Haydock.

Honeyball is also convinced that his gelding was far from at his best when going down at 1/4 in the Scottish borders and is hoping racegoers will see the real Regal Encore this weekend.

"We had another mare beaten at odds-on that week and it did look like we had a virus," said the Dorset handler on At The Races. "I can't say for definite he was affected by it, but the yard's form was certainly very dodgy.

"He didn't come back quite right from that run and quite soon after we could explain it to ourselves and we weren't too worried, as he was also a bit flat on the day for him - he's usually a bit electric. But looking back on it, giving away 7lb and getting beaten by two lengths was no disgrace anyway.

"At the moment it's all about the Imperial Cup as even if he wins and goes up to a mark of 135 we might not get a run at Cheltenham. But if he does do the business and looks okay afterwards, we might still have something to look forward to on the Friday of the Festival."

Regal Encore is favourite for the Imperial Cup and any penalty picked up for prevailing at Sandown could prove crucial in nudging him up the ratings in order to qualify for either the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle or the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Sponsors William Hill have put up a huge bonus prize of £100,000 to any horse that can win both the Imperial Cup and any race at the Festival.


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Regal Encore targets Imperial Cup boost to Cheltenham Festival hopes

Trainer Anthony Honeyball is tipping Regal Encore to bounce back from a surprise defeat at Hexham and boost his hopes of booking a return trip to the Cheltenham Festival by winning Saturday's William Hill Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday.

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