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Brennan still on cloud nine

IT was not until Monday evening that Paddy Brennan had time alone to absorb the enormity of Gold Cup glory.

Relaxing, at last, in his bachelor house in Stow-on-the-Wold, he watched the replay a few more times, replied to the latest congratulatory messages and let his mind wander to the bad days before Imperial Commander.

"I just sat by myself and took it all in," he said yesterday. "I didn't get to bed until half-past one. When Sam Thomas won it two years ago, I remember telling him to take everything in, because most of us will never get to do it. Look at Tony McCoy -- he's won one Gold Cup, a long time ago. That's how hard it is.

"I've been through a lot to get here. When I smashed my leg a few years back, you'd have thought I might never ride again. I've been rock-bottom and I've been horrible to people along the way, but I've grown up in the past two years. It's made me a better person and helped me appreciate what has happened now."

Brennan was always a darkness or sunshine character, no room for grey in his fickle moods. He has things more under control now and it shows in his riding and his reactions. "I didn't let myself get too up last Friday," he said. "I was almost in tears after my first two Cheltenham winners but I took it more like a man this time. I half-expected it, you know."

His belief in Imperial Commander was evident through the drama at a clamorous Cheltenham. Reliving it, Brennan revealed he had no idea that Kauto Star had fallen.

"I'd seen him make that early mistake but after that I had tunnel vision. This was the big stage and I'd prepared myself for every outcome. Whether I won or not, I just had to get it right. I never looked round once.

"I genuinely didn't know Kauto had gone -- though I did wonder when he wasn't coming at me down the hill. Thank God, he was all right. He's been great for racing and if anything had happened to him it would have taken the gloss off the day."

He cast back farther, to the Betfair Chase last November, in which Imperial Commander lost out by a whisker to Kauto Star. "That Haydock race was the day my horse told me how good he was. If he'd been properly fit, he'd have won by four lengths.

"Mentally and physically, he was fitter in the Gold Cup than at any time in his life. He was a steering job -- there's not one jockey in that weighing-room who wouldn't have won on him."

Such self-deprecation underplays both the conviction of the ride and his trusting relationship with trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, who gave Brennan licence to ride the race as he chose.

"Nigel believes in me, just as I believe in him," he said. "I got it wrong in the King George -- I had him among horses and he hated it. In the Gold Cup I was in control from the moment we jumped off.

"It had been a disappointing Festival up to then, and was starting to feel an awfully long week. Now, I feel so privileged. I'm 28 and realistic enough to know this may not happen again."

Brennan's two sisters joined him on Friday night, one flying from Dublin as soon as she heard the result. Next morning, they all joined the village throng in Guiting Power as Imperial Commander paraded. Brennan, tired but exulted, checked his phone. "I replied to 200 texts," he said. "Everyone I know texted me. It was lovely."

The jockey was back at the yard on Tuesday, business as usual. "I rode out and had a look at Imperial in the field. I don't know if he'll run at Aintree. I do know nothing can compare with the Gold Cup. Cheltenham is such an amazing place."

© The Times, London