Kauto odds-on for King George as Imperial ruled out
ON the afternoon that he was named Trainer of the Year in England, Nigel Twiston-Davies had to admit that even his skills were not up to getting Imperial Commander back to fitness in time for the King George VI Chase.
The nine-year-old gelding damaged a foreleg making a successful seasonal debut at Haydock last month and, while he started light exercise last week after a period confined to his box, a setback means that his diary has been cleared. In fact, he may not run again before he defends his Gold Cup title at Cheltenham in March.
"He has a slight infection in his leg," said Twiston-Davies yesterday, "and it means we won't be able to get him cherry-ripe for Kempton. It's nothing serious, we just ran out of time; he's back on antibiotics and he can't canter for two weeks. It's likely that he'll go straight for the Gold Cup now, but that's not written in stone."
Imperial Commander had been third market choice for the Kempton showpiece, behind four-time winner Kauto Star. The latter, trained by Paul Nicholls, has now hardened to as short as 10/11 for an unprecedented fifth King George triumph.
Long Run, from the Nicky Henderson stable, is generally a 5/1 shot, with Tom Cooper's Forpadydeplasterer third choice at 8/1. Two long-shots, Eddie Harty's Captain Cee Bee and Catch Me from the Edward O'Grady yard, were also ruled out yesterday.
Elsewhere, Gordon Elliott is keen to step up Carlito Brigante to beyond two miles for the first time in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham should Saturday's card go ahead. Officials at Cheltenham remain confident this week's two-day fixture will take place despite the prevailing cold weather.
Sunday's card at Exeter aside, there has not been any turf action on British or Irish soil since Newbury's Hennessy meeting on November 27. However, Cheltenham covered both their hurdle and chase courses in entirety on Sunday and clerk of the course Simon Claisse is confident racing will go ahead on both Friday and Saturday. That is good news for Elliott, who hopes his four-year-old has can build on an impressive seasonal reappearance at Haydock last month.
"We've got him entered in Dundalk on Friday as well, mainly because of the weather," Elliott explained. "But we're planning on going to Cheltenham if it's on. We want to know whether he wants to step up in trip or stay at two miles, so hopefully we'll find out."
Carlito Brigante will certainly face a good test if he does line up following the latest entry stage. Among the 18 contenders are the likes of Karabak, Zaynar, Restless Harry and Arcalis.
Away from Cheltenham, the picture is not so bright, with little chance of any jumping action taking place before the weekend. Following an inspection yesterday, Fairyhouse's big meeting, which includes three Grade Ones, will replace a meeting at the track on Saturday, which has now been abandoned.
Punchestown's John Durkan Memorial Chase meeting is now due to take place on Tuesday, December 14.
"They're moving Fairyhouse's Wednesday meeting to Saturday. Punchestown's Thursday meeting will be moved to next Tuesday, meaning the meeting at Cork will be moved to Monday," said Turf Club official Cliff Noone.
Ludlow and Taunton have already abandoned their Thursday cards, while Doncaster's two-day fixture on Friday and Saturday is already a major doubt. (© Independent News Service)