Regal leads Cup field

Regal Encore is among 14 horses declared for the William Hill Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday.

Anthony Honeyball's six-year-old ran a fantastic race to chase home Briar Hill in the Champion Bumper at last year's Cheltenham Festival and has won once from three starts over hurdles this term.

He begins life in handicap company off a mark of 130 and a winning run could see him return to Cheltenham, with William Hill offering a 100,000 bonus for any horse who can triumph in the Imperial Cup and at the Festival next week.

David Pipe's talented mare Swing Bowler performed admirably to finish fifth in last month's Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and heads the weights, with the Pond House handler also running recent Ludlow winner Baltimore Rock.

Paul Nicholls is represented by Vibrato Valtat, who bolted up on his latest start at Exeter and could take in next week's County Hurdle if successful at Sandown.

Nicholls told Betfair: "He won really nicely at Exeter and has a mark of 130, which probably won't get him in the County Hurdle.

"We'll run him in the Imperial Cup and if he happened to win that, he'll get a penalty that will probably get him in the race.

"He's an improving young horse."

The John Ferguson-trained New Year's Eve was runner-up behind Champagne Fever in the 2012 Champion Bumper and though it has taken him a while to get the hang of the jumping game, he heads to Sandown on a hat-trick following victories at Huntingdon and Market Rasen.

Other contenders include Nicky Henderson's Fourth Estate and Somemothersdohavem from Venetia Williams' yard.