COULD today’s Sandown feature be a sign of things to come on the eve of the Cheltenham Festival?

Provided the meeting passes an 8am raceday inspection, a pair of Irish-trained runners have the potential to shake-up the £100,000 Betfair Imperial Cup (2.25), including one who hails from last year’s winning stable of Peter Fahey.

It was very nearly a masterful training performance from the Monasterevin-based handler when Zoffany Bay finished a cracking second on his stable debut in a £50,000 handicap hurdle at Ascot three weeks ago. That 25/1 near miss came after a 700-day layoff.

Odds compilers have priced up the Pimlico Racing-owned nine-year-old almost four times shorter this time around, and Fahey heads to the Esher venue with confidence in his challenger.

Only 12 months have passed since he saddled Suprise Package to bolt up in the Imperial Cup by nine lengths.

“Hopefully Zoffany Bay is the right type of horse for this race,” Fahey told The Irish Field.

“He ran a brilliant race last time at Ascot and I don’t see the drop in trip to two miles [from an extended two miles and three furlongs] as being a problem. He’s in good form and testing ground will be fine for him.

“The worry would be that there’s only a three-week turnaround from his first start after some time off. You never know until you go. With everything else, you’d be as confident as you can be.”

Out to Work wonders

Another of the biggest Sandown challengers, Man O Work, is trained just over the road in Nurney, Co Kildare by Paul Fahey - brother of Zoffany Bay’s Cheltenham Festival-winning trainer.

Horses aged five have won the last three runnings of the Imperial Cup, as well as six of the last 10 runnings, so the signs are positive for five-year-old Man O Work’s claims. Connections will be hoping for better luck than last time when falling at the third flight at the Dublin Racing Festival.

“He won at Limerick on soft to heavy ground around this time last year, but I’d prefer if the rain didn’t arrive because I know he’s effective on better ground,” Fahey told The Irish Field.

“I could have gone for a smaller race but I’ve been protecting his mark with the hopes of having a go at a bigger one like this. We went to the Dublin Racing Festival with that in mind but we didn’t learn anything because he came down so early. I think he’s on a reasonable mark and we’re looking forward to seeing how he gets on.”

Imperial Cup winners have often attempted to double up at the Cheltenham Festival a week later, but neither Zoffany Bay or Man O Work are likely to attempt the brace despite holding entries for next week.

Nevertheless, the annual Irish challenge at Cheltenham is well stocked and loaded for the most magical four days of the year.

It’s nearly here. Enjoy this weekend’s support act before the greatest show on turf.