Imperial offers a beacon amid the frozen wastes

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A pessimist, dismayed by the sudden suspension of jumps racing, might find it hard to imagine a thaw in time for the race to take place at all. But optimists yesterday preferred to embrace new grounds for believing that two of the central protagonists at Kempton on Boxing Day, Imperial Commander and Noel Fehily, will each overcome a more tangible menace to their participation.

In fairness, some who consider themselves realists would reckon it in Imperial Commander's best interests not to go anywhere near Kauto Star, in what will very much be a home game for the horse seeking an unprecedented fifth success in the William Hill King George VI Chase. But Imperial Commander's trainer and owners seem to have their hearts set on disproving a popular theory that he is less effective round Kempton than Cheltenham, scene of his Gold Cup success in March. And it seems that the cut sustained by Imperial Commander, when making that fluent return to the fray at Haydock 10 days ago, is healing sufficiently to renew those ambitions.

After a week of box rest, the bandages came off his foreleg yesterday. And while Nigel Twiston-Davies, his trainer, stressed that he is "still not certain to get there by any means", the trainer none the less declared his vet delighted by what he found. "Things are all good," Twiston-Davies said. "It's healing up really, really well."

Even so, Imperial Commander will not be able to resume cantering until Thursday at the earliest, in the meantime being confined to roadwork. And while he would always have been due some recuperation after Haydock, he remains perilously close to the margin of a feasible training schedule, certainly if he is to give Kauto Star any more to think about than in two previous King George disappointments.

As for Fehily, he has not yet despaired of his momentous opportunity on Kauto Star after injuring a wrist at Newbury last Friday. Though a fracture was suspected, X-rays have proved inconclusive and the jockey, offered the mount because Ruby Walsh broke a leg at Down Royal earlier this month, is hoping he can return in time to prove his fitness to Kauto Star's trainer, Paul Nicholls. "The doctor said he's very hopeful I could be back in two to three weeks, well before Christmas," Fehily said. "Realistically, I'd have to be back riding a week before."

Fehily had secured the mount after what amounted to an audition, in the same Clive Smith silks, on Master Minded at Ascot 10 days ago. He got a magnificent round of jumping out of his mount, making Master Minded look the obvious one to beat from 10 acceptors for the Keith Prowse Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday. Sadly, the meeting already seems in doubt, frost having insinuated itself beneath the blankets on the track, and with snow also in the offing.

For the time being, Fehily is not missing a great deal. Indeed, the five shivering amateurs who made it as far as the start for the first race at Folkestone yesterday could well prove the only jump jockeys to weigh out all week. Increasingly heavy snow prompted the stewards to summon them back, and abandon the meeting. Ayr and Catterick have already given up any hope for tomorrow, and the presumed loss of Plumpton following an inspection this morning would leave just an all-weather meeting at Kempton. An extra such card is being arranged for Lingfield on Thursday.

Another injured rider, Robert Thornton, had a further positive meeting with his surgeon yesterday. Told that he potentially faced a year off after rupturing three out of four knee ligaments in a fall in July, he remains optimistic of completing a comeback before Christmas. Assuming there are any meetings for him to ride at.

Turf account


Elspeth's Boy (2.15 Lingfield)

Ran in the 2,000 Guineas – albeit predictably tailed off – but has since found a more suitable level and looked ready to share his stable's return to form with a powerful finish for second over 7f here last time. Extra furlong sure to suit.

Next best

Dark Promise (2.40 Lingfield)

Top-class pedigree and worth forgiving two handicap defeats after promising start in maidens. The first was perfectly creditable, and she was probably turned out too soon for the other, a week later.

One to watch

Super Kenny (N J Henderson) made a promising return at Newbury last Thursday, challenging strongly but just unable to pass two progressive types after a mistake at the last.

Where the money's going

Forpadydeplasterer is 10-1 from 12-1 with the sponsors for the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.