Cheltenham hero rests after war of the wolds
Imperial Commander takes a break before going on manoeuvres to Liverpool
For the Festival's hype-busting equine hero Imperial Commander there were extra pats and carrots and a day doing nothing more strenuous than stretching his legs in a parade before his public. For his human attendants it was business as usual in less glorious surroundings than Cheltenham – his trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, and jockey, Paddy Brennan, kept their victory roll going with Petite Margot at Ffos Las.
Where horses are concerned that business about pride and falls is not a truism for nothing, but Twiston-Davies is one of the least prone of his profession to any degree of hubris, always preferring to let his horses do the talking. Yesterday morning, after shouting home three winners the previous afternoon, his voice was hoarse enough for that arrangement to have been comfortable.
Imperial Commander seemed to have grown into his name as he tugged stable lass Jo Collinson past the pub down the high street in the village, only a dozen miles from the scene of Friday's glory on the course he has made his own, followed by the yard's other Friday Cheltenham winners, Baby Run and Pigeon Island. For once, Twiston-Davies seemed content to be the centre of attention as hundreds turned out to welcome the trio.
"We are always happy to let others take the pressure of publicity," he said. "We tend to have a quiet life here and that's the way I prefer it, but yesterday was something special and I have to say I'm chuffed to bits."
The trainer can perhaps be forgiven a certain smugness that his belief in his charge was justified. "The Gold Cup was so much about Kauto Star and Denman that ours was the forgotten horse," he added. "But not by us, and it is such a relief to have got it done and dusted."
Imperial Commander has never won away from Cheltenham over fences – though he did run Kauto Star to a nose at Haydock in November – and may try to rectify that omission at Aintree next month in the Totesport Bowl. "He was a fresh horse at the final fence in the Gold Cup and wasn't tired, he had them all covered all through the race," said Twiston-Davies, "and I hope that I am not tempting fate to say that without Kauto and Denman in the field at Aintree it will be a penalty kick."
Brennan, whose career and belief have gone from strength to strength since joining Twiston-Davies two years ago, said: "Kauto Star had to make just one mistake and the race was Imperial's. But none of this is for me – it is for the horse and Nigel."
In its early days the Gold Cup was just a trial for the season's most important contest, the Grand National, and with his third place on Friday, as his boundless stamina kicked in, the reigning Aintree hero Mon Mome took the race back to its roots. The Midlands version of the marathon at Uttoxeter yesterday required even more fortitude; in gruelling, rain-softened conditions, only three of the 17 starters finished. Tony McCoy won it on Synchronised, who missed an engagement at Cheltenham because the ground was considered too fast. Plan B proved the right one – the Jonjo O'Neill-trained seven-year-old, given a stalking ride over nearly four-and-a-quarter miles, prevailed by three-quarters of a length from the trailblazing L'Aventure, posting her best result in five attempts at the prize.
With another Cheltenham in the formbook and Aintree three weeks' distant, the focus is starting to sharpen on the Flat. On Saturday the first feature of the domestic season, the Lincoln Handicap at Doncaster, is overshadowed by the extravaganza that is the world's richest race, the Dubai World Cup, at the world's most opulent new racecourse, Meydan.
At Lingfield yesterday there was a pointer to events in the Gulf as Tranquil Tiger, stablemate and galloping companion of the Henry Cecil-trained challenger for the $10m purse, Twice Over, took the Winter Derby. "He's been working really well with Twice Over," said Tom Queally, rider of both, "so there was confidence in him."
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