Commander chases history

Gold Cup hero heads for Aintree in bid to end 76-year wait for follow-up triumph
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The Independent Online

Rivals in a race are one thing; pages of history quite another. 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 Gloucestershire trainer described the three-mile Grade 1 contest, in the absence of the erstwhile big two players, as "a penalty kick".

Watch out Row Z in that case. For it is 76 years since a Gold Cup winner followed up with a victory at Aintree. And that was one of the legends of the game, Golden Miller, when in 1934 he 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 100 per cent," he said yesterday, "there's not a bother on him. The plan is to take him to Aintree to run in the Totesport Bowl. He's now proved what a top-class horse he is."

The mound of statistics that will face Imperial Commander, who has yet to win away from Cheltenham over fences, make a fairly formidable obstacle. Since Golden Miller's annus mirabilis, 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 more recently Kicking King and War Of Attrition, who followed up in the Punchestown Gold Cup in 2005 and 2006 respectively.

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 Champion Hurdle winner Binocular on again with his runner-up Khyber Kim in the Aintree Hurdle. "If all the National horses are all OK by the day, they could all run," he said. "I like the place and 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 John Smiths-sponsored marathon after yesterday's latest scratchings stage, though the field will be whittled down to its safety limit of 40 by the day. The Venetia Williams-trained gelding provided a 100-1 shock last year but, after his strong-finishing third place in the Gold Cup, is now jostling for favouritism with Big Fella Thanks at a tenth those odds.

Highest-profile among the 23 taken out of the race yesterday were the 2006 Gold Cup winner War Of Attrition, Possol and injured Taranis.

Turf account: Sue Montgomery


Nono Le Sage (5.10 Warwick) Unpenalised for his easy handicap debut victory in a conditional riders' contest over course and distance 10 days ago and can score again.

Next best

Himalayan Trail (2.10 Haydock) At the veteran stage now and has not won for more than two years but his mark has plummeted. Drops in class today and there may be one more victory in this dour old stayer.

One to watch

Hereweareagain (P Hobbs) Produced a sound effort to finish second at Newton Abbot on Sunday and will go to better effect over further.

Where's the money going

The news that the 2008 Arc heroine Zarkava is safely in foal to last year's winner of the Longchamp feature, Sea The Stars, has prompted Ladbrokes to go 50-1 against their offspring taking the 2014 running.

Chris McGrath's Nap

Sir Tantallus Hawke (2.40 Haydock).