Imperial Commander out of Gold Cup

 

If his defection could hardly be counted the most surprising, it certainly will not be the last. As such, Nigel Twiston-Davies will have sent a shudder through every rival trainer when he scratched Imperial Commander from the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Few, after all, will be preparing more talented horses for the Festival next week. But they will be hoping that their own charges prove more robust – or fortunate, at any rate – than Imperial Commander, who beat Denman and Kauto Star in the 2010 running. The following year he broke a blood vessel, and then disappeared for 22 months before resurfacing at the trials meeting in January. A narrow defeat there emboldened Twiston-Davies to think that his champion remained a legitimate challenger at 12, but he encountered a fresh setback.

"He's got a lung infection, so that's that," Twiston-Davies said. "What can you do? It's an absolute sickener, but they are very delicate creatures. I'm sure he's still as good as ever, he's been in great form, but you can't rush them. Hopefully he'll be OK for Liverpool."

For some trainers, it has been hard enough simply to decide between different races. But John Ferguson has finally settled on the County Hurdle, rather than the Champion Hurdle itself, for Cotton Mill; while Colin Tizzard has decided not to take on Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, and will instead run Cue Card in the Ryanair Chase.

For punters, meanwhile, the next six days will be spent in an increasing frenzy. To certain diehards a race like the Gold Cup is willingly left to the purists. Instead they pore over handicaps like the Pertemps Final, and would nominate as their ultimate Festival darling a horse like Willie Wumpkins, who won the equivalent race three years running between 1979 and 1981.

All the buzz for next Thursday's renewal has been focused on Sam Winner – who looks well treated on his Triumph Hurdle fourth a couple of years ago. He made an eye-catching comeback from injury in a qualifier at Sandown in December, and Paul Nicholls immediately resolved to keep his powder dry for the final. In the meantime Sam Winner has enjoyed the bonus of a jumpers' bumper, at Kempton, where he beat no less a horse than Peddlers Cross. "He was really only half-ready at Sandown," Nicholls said. "I don't think we've seen the best of him yet over hurdles and three miles will bring out the best in him."

But Sam Winner is duly no better than 5-1 favourite – and Captain Sunshine looks better value, at four times those odds, after repeatedly catching the eye this winter. His trainer, Emma Lavelle, has endured a barren spell since saddling four winners on one Saturday before Christmas. But there have been signs of renewal of late and a Festival winner would redress all her frustrations since.

Lavelle says that Captain Sunshine has been dropping himself out on sticky ground before regrouping to finish well, but predicts that he will prove a different horse on a better surface.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Sannibel (3.0 Lingfield) Did very well to close for second from off a steady pace last time; his best performance since changing stable.

Next best

Diplomatic (8.0 Kempton) Looked as good as ever when scoring over course and distance. Found drop in trip against him since.

One to watch

Living Leader (Nick Littmoden) Is lightly raced and shaped well in a sprint finish at Lingfield the other day, hitting top gear late.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough, Cam...

Ashdown Group: C# Developer - (C#, VB.Net, SQL, Git, TDD)

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Developer (C#, VB & ASP.Net, SQL Server, TSQL) - Pe...

Ashdown Group: Business Relationship Manager

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Business Relationship Manager - Enfield, North Lond...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea