Imperial rule for Nicholls and Cobden with Malaya

Malaya goes on to win the Matchbook Imperial Cup at Sandown

Malaya continued the fine form of Paul Nicholls with victory in the Matchbook Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle at Sandown.

The five-year-old mare dug deep on the run-in to get the better of Monsieur Lecoq – a performance made all the more remarkable as the winner had survived a bad blunder two from home.

Long-time leader Speredek still led going to three out, but the challengers were looming and the hat-trick-seeking Monsieur Lecoq took over at the second-last in the hands of Chester Williams.

That is where Harry Cobden had to keep the eventual winner on an even keel, and they were back in the mix at the last.

A brief duel ensured from there, but Malaya (7-1) kept on strongly to get the better of the argument by four lengths, with 3-1 favourite Call Me Lord in third.

Nicholls said: “She ran well at Ascot the other day – two-miles-three was probably too far for her. She’d had two falls and we were keen to get a clear round and get her confidence up.

“She’s improved since then and today was the day, she had a big chance.

“What happened at the second-last showed how tough she is. She is a good mare on her day and actually ran well in a Grade One at Auteuil in November when she fell and could have been fourth.

“Off 10st 2lb today, I thought she had dropped to a nice mark.”

Malaya is now eligible for a £100,000 bonus from the Imperial Cup sponsors if she can go on to win at Cheltenham next week.

Nicholls added: “She could possibly go to Cheltenham. She’s tough. She doesn’t need much work, so it’s a definite possibility. We could look at it.”

Cobden said: “Apart from the second-last she was very good and tough.

“The boss told me two months ago she would win this, so never underestimate your master.”