Amancio's Imperial effort

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AMANCIO ploughed through the mud on his favourite course to take the traditional pre- Cheltenham feature, the Sunderlands Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle, here yesterday.

The five-year-old, ridden by Mick Fitzgerald, blazed the trail from the off and although the pack, headed by Chief's Song and Silver Groom, closed in on the final turn, Amancio found his second wind and stayed on up the hill to beat Silver Groom three lengths.

A course and distance winner a year ago, Amancio, like the pair who followed him in, is engaged in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham on Thursday, but whether or not he takes his chance will depend on how he recovers from yesterday's exertions. There is a pounds 50,000 bonus on offer for the winner of the Imperial Cup and any race at the Festival, but Amancio's trainer rates her charge highly and has longer-term Cheltenham hopes.

She said: "He had a very hard race today, and the last time he ran two races in close succession he did not do well second time. It took a long time to teach him to settle after his Flat career, but he's a lovely horse, and we hope he will go chasing next year, and in time he may make a top- class two-miler."

Coral have installed Amancio as 8-1 favourite (10-1 available with Hills) for the County Hurdle, the last race of the Cheltenham meeting, with Chief's Song at 14-1.

Tony McCoy's dash from Chepstow to Sandown by helicopter proved worthwhile when he drove Lord Dorcet to a neck victory from Senor El Betrutti in the Burnt Oak & Special Cargo Novices' Chase. Graham Bradley on the runner- up, known for his dislike of holding going, seemed to be looking for Esher High Street as he went wide in search of fresh ground and was on terms with Lord Dorcet at the last. An objection by him to the winner for crossing on the run-in was thrown out by the stewards.

One of McCoy's co-passengers in the chopper, Richard Dunwoody, had emerged unscathed after a heavy last-fence fall at Chepstow, and came down to earth again when Spanish Light crashed five out. There were some anxious moments as the jockey, favourite to take the Ritz Club Trophy at Cheltenham this week, lay motionless for a few minutes, but he got up and walked away after catching his breath.

The Grand Military meeting is the annual chance to shine for soldier- riders, and another high-flyer, Captain Adam Ogden, late of the Queen's Own Yeomanry, obliged his former regiment with a double on his father Robert's appropriately named The Major General and Society Guest, owned by the Jigsaw chain of fashion shops.

Ogden, 33, left the Army last year to pursue a career chartering planes and helicopters to the United Nations in Africa, in which capacity he delivers aid supplies into the Sudan and Somalia. He is at home for a few months, and said: "The riding is the hard work - flying is a bit of a break."