Commander facing stiff Aintree task
NIGEL Twiston-Davies confirmed yesterday that Gold Cup hero Imperial Commander, who emerged from the shadow of Kauto Star and Denman at Cheltenham five days ago, will reappear in the Totesport Bowl at Aintree two weeks tomorrow, the first day of the Grand National meeting.
Perhaps it was an unguarded remark in the post-race euphoria of last week's victory, but the trainer described the three-mile Grade One contest, in the absence of the erstwhile big two players, as "a penalty kick".
However, it is 76 years since a Gold Cup winner followed up with a victory at Aintree. And that was in 1934, when legendary Golden Miller became the only horse ever to win both of steeplechasing's top prizes in the same year.
Twiston-Davies reports Imperial Commander in perfect fettle after last week's exertions. "He's 100pc," he said yesterday, "and the plan is to take him to Aintree to run in the Totesport Bowl."
The mound of statistics that will face Imperial Commander, who has yet to win away from Cheltenham over fences, make a formidable obstacle.
Since Golden Miller, 35 Gold Cup winners have raced again that season and on only five occasions won next time out: Mill House, Arkle twice (an Irish Grand National and a Whitbread Gold Cup in 1964 and 1965) and recently Kicking King and War Of Attrition, which followed up in the Punchestown Gold Cup in 2005 and 2006.
The last horse to tackle the race on Imperial Commander's schedule was Desert Orchid, who fell at the 12th obstacle in 1989 and before him it was Dawn Run, who crashed at the first three years earlier. Since Desert Orchid, four Gold Cup winners have gone on to Aintree for a crack at the National, with Garrison Savannah, second in 1991, closest to victory.
But then, Aintree has always been a lucky course for Twiston-Davies; he has trained two National winners, Earth Summit in 1998 and Bindaree eight years ago, after all. He has seven contenders this time -- Beat The Boys, Ballyfitz, Ollie Magern, Irish Raptor, Razor Royale, Hello Bud and Knowhere -- and also plans to take on Champion Hurdle hero Binocular with his runner-up Khyber Kim in the Aintree Hurdle.
"If all the National horses are all ok, they could all run," he said. "I owe the National everything; I'd have given up training had not Bindaree turned my career around by winning."
Last year's winner Mon Mome heads the 75 left in the big race after yesterday's latest scratchings stage, but the field will be cut to its safety limit of 40 by the day. Venetia Williams' gelding provided a 100/1 shock last year but, after his fine third in the Gold Cup, is now jostling for favouritism with Big Fella Thanks at a 10th of those odds.
Six of the last 11 National winners were trained in this country and there are 25 contenders who could add to that record including the Dessie Hughes-trained pair of Vic Venturi, winner of the Becher Chase at Aintree in November, and Black Apalachi, which landed the same race in 2008. Gordon Elliot's 2007 Grand National winner Silver Birch needs 11 horses to come out to get a run. Highest-profile among the 23 taken out of the race yesterday were the Mouse Morris-trained War Of Attrition, Possol and the injured Taranis.
Aintree Grand National -- Paddy Power betting: 8/1 Big Fella Thanks, 12 Mon Mome, Vic Venturi; 14 Tricky Trickster, 16 Arbor Supreme, Backstage, Black Apalachi, Niche Market, The Package; 20 Can't Buy Time, Snowy Morning, State Of Play; 25 Ballyholland, Character Building, Comply Or Die; 33/1 bar.