The UK merchant banking group, which also sponsors the novices’ handicap on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival, replaces William Hill as backers of the feature handicap.
More than 100 years old, the race will be worth £70,000 (€90,500) in prize-money but will not carry a bonus for any horse who goes on to score at the Festival, as has been the case in recent years.
Rupert Trevelyan, regional director for the Jockey Club’s London region, said: “We warmly welcome Close Brothers as sponsors of our feature race on Saturday, the Close Brothers Imperial Cup.
“This year’s race has seen another strong set of entries and we look forward to an exciting renewal.”
Heavy overnight rain has all but ruled Gwafa out of the race, though.
Trained by Paul Webber, the former Marco Botti inmate has created a good impression in winning two of his three outings over hurdles.
“I don’t think he’ll run,” said Webber.
“He wouldn’t like that ground and we’ll probably wait for Aintree.
“As there’s only three weeks between Cheltenham and Aintree this season we’ll have a look at the two-mile Graded race (Top Novices’ Hurdle) as it might not be as strong as usual, but he’ll also get an entry in the handicap.”
At the other end of the scale, connections of Sirop De Menthe would be happy to see the rain continue all week.
Fourth behind Different Gravey at Ascot last time out, the drop in trip is considered “a positive”.
Trained by Sue Gardner, Sirop De Menthe will be ridden by her daughter, Lucy, who said: “Hopefully he’ll run.
“As long as it is wet enough it is certainly the plan, anyway.”