Commander proves too hot for Chase rivals
Nigel Twiston-Davies challenged Imperial Commander's doubters to put their money down as the horse took the first steps towards a successful defence of his Cheltenham Gold Cup crown when taking the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
The winning trainer is adamant that the horse can shrug off the memories of bad runs in the last two renewals of Kempton's King George VI Chase and throw down a serious challenge to Kauto Star's bid for an unprecedented fifth success in the St Stephen's Day highlight, saying: "I've no doubt that he can show his best there and anyone who doesn't think that can go on Betfair and lay him."
Despite taking victory by an unimpressive-sounding winning margin of one and a quarter lengths over Tidal Bay, success never really seemed in doubt for the 10/11 favourite, which went to the front with Nacarat at the first fence in the back straight and steadily ground out victory.
Planet Of Sound and What A Friend still looked to have chances on the home turn, but one by one the winner's rivals dropped away under a well-judged ride from Paddy Brennan, which was tailored to suit his mount's superior stamina reserves.
The irony of yesterday's success is that, impressive as it was, it did nothing to erase the fact that Imperial Commander has a far better record when racing after a break -- a trait which is reflected by the already-made decision to rest him after Kempton and give him three months off before the Gold Cup.
Twiston-Davies was defensive on the issue, saying: "I don't have any worries about Kempton. I've learnt a lot about him in the last couple of years and we'll get him right on the day. There were some doubters but he has shown them. We couldn't really have asked for things to go any better. He was fit, but not hyper-fit and he'll come on for the run."
Kauto Star remains a hot favourite for the King George and Noel Fehily's Christmas plans became clearer as he guided Master Minded to an easy success in the Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot. In Ruby Walsh's absence, Fehily has emerged as the clear favourite to partner Kauto Star at Kempton. "He hasn't done himself any harm, has he?" Nicholls said.
With his confidence on a high, Master Minded heads next to Sandown's Tingle Creek Chase a week on Saturday, a race which he won two years ago. However his task was made undoubtedly easier when Albertas Run got things spectacularly wrong at the third-last fence, barely taking off at all and hurtling Tony McCoy into the ground. That was McCoy's third fall of the day and, having hobbled back to the ambulance, even he knew it was time to call it quits and he took the rest of the afternoon off.