Brennan can show rivals the real Commander
Flashback almost exactly a year ago and Imperial Commander, the great underdog, gave Kauto Star, the champion, the fright of his life when running him to a nose in the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
It became the defining race of the season, yet few fully recognised its relevance at the time. Twelve months on, racing is celebrating the seasonal debut of Imperial Commander, which in the second half of last term went on to defy his critics, shattering theories of 'doubtful stamina' and class limitations to gain revenge on Kauto Star by winning the Gold Cup in March by seven lengths.
Despite subsequently falling in the Totesport Bowl at Aintree, Imperial Commander is the defending champion, and he and his trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, no longer have the luxury of merrily sailing along under the publicity radar. He is top dog and getting the deserved attention.
This first performance of his season will come under as much scrutiny as that of Kauto Star last year, and with a 22lb 'pull' at the weights, based on BHA ratings, Imperial Commander will need to win the Betfair Chase with a degree of authority.
Now a nine-year-old, he gives the impression that, with maturity, the best is still to come. By rights, this should be his glory year and Twiston-Davies certainly doesn't disagree.
"He's in great nick and we're expecting a very good run," said the Naunton handler. "We think he could be better this year. He's in the form of his life. We're going to go to the Betfair, the King George and then the Gold Cup -- just the three will be his season."
His jockey Paddy Brennan can be expected to be as aggressive with his tactics as he was 12 months ago, and I expect them to pay off.
But Imperial Commander's level of superiority is not as great as official figures might suggest and that his main opposition will come from the Philip Hobbs-trained Planet Of Sound.
The Hobbs team are in sparkling form and Planet Of Sound is a likely improver, very much along the lines of Imperial Commander last season.
The skills of Nick Williams are continually overlooked but the victory of Gauvain last week might just open a few more eyes. The Devon handler landed the 'Fixed Brush' Handicap Hurdle with the classy Diamond Harry last season and while James De Vassy may not be as good as him, he holds solid claims.
The Nicholls team believe Master Minded is over his troubles, with a breathing operation thought to have done wonders, so he should not be taken on in the Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot. Alan King's string are absolutely on fire so Karabak is the value call to beat Zaynar in the Coral Ascot Hurdle. (© Daily Telegraph, London)