Imperial Commander primed for Haydock
Nigel Twiston-Davies and Paddy Brennan believe Imperial Commander's chief rivals have something to prove as the jumps campaign begins in earnest.
Last season's Cheltenham Gold Cup winner will have the first of a three-race campaign in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on November 20, before he takes in the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton and a return to the Cotswolds next March.
At Haydock last November, Imperial Commander went within a nose of depriving Kauto Star of his third victory in the Grade One event and trainer Twiston-Davies feels it is the ideal starting point again.
Paul Nicholls is likely to plunge What A Friend into that particular event, while Kauto Star heads to Down Royal and Denman -- a seven-length runner-up to Imperial Commander in the 2010 Gold Cup -- is set to defend his Hennessy title at Newbury.
"Kauto Star and Denman do have questions to answer this season," said Twiston-Davies, who was hosting a press morning at his Gloucestershire stables. "Obviously they are amazingly good horses and you have got to respect them, but we're looking forward to having another go.
"He (Imperial Commander) definitely is more forward than he was last year. He's only going to have the three runs -- the Betfair, the King George and then the Gold Cup -- so we'll make sure he's fit for the big targets."
Both Twiston-Davies and jockey Brennan defended the gelding's record at Kempton, where he has finished sixth and fifth behind Kauto Star in his two tries in the King George.
"He had a really hard race at Haydock (Betfair Chase) and Imperial Commander is more like Denman, in that he takes his time," said Brennan.
"But he went round Kempton in a gallop three weeks before Cheltenham and he gave me a feel like no horse has ever done."
Meanwhile, owner Andy Stewart is looking forward to Celestial Halo making his debut over fences in Exeter's Best Mate Beginners' Chase today. Classy enough to finish second to Punjabi in the 2009 renewal of the Champion Hurdle, the six-year-old was fourth to Binocular 12 months later.
He was last seen falling at the second-last flight in the Aintree Hurdle, an incident which sidelined Ruby Walsh for months, but Paul Nicholls' stable jockey has been at Ditcheat popping him over some fences in preparation.
Stewart is also keen to see if Celestial Halo will have the pace over fences for two miles. "We're really looking forward to it and it's a race we won last year with Tataniano," he said. "I can't actually be there but he has schooled very well at home; Ruby has been down to sit on him a couple of times.
"Obviously we are going to find out whether two miles is his trip, he might want two and a half but definitely not three. This has always been an interesting race, sponsored by my mate Jim Lewis, so let's see if we can do it.
"There is always the fear that they might not take to fences but he has not given us any indication at home that he won't; he's just got to do it on a racecourse proper now."
Celestial Halo faces four rivals -- Diamond Brook, Jocheski, The Brimmer and Rougham.