Tough Imperial Commander claims the Power and glory

Partnership of Brennan and Twiston-Davies strikes gold at their local track
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The Independent Online

In the careers of many sportsmen, there comes a point when they find the right place at the right time. Think Thierry Henry and Arsenal, or Paul Scholes and Manchester United. And now Paddy Brennan and Nigel Twiston-Davies. The association, which began during the summer of 2007, sailed serenely on here yesterday as the 28-year-old rider and 51-year-old trainer took the day's feature, the Paddy Power Gold Cup, with seven-year-old Imperial Commander.

Co Galway-born Brennan joined Twiston-Davies at Naunton, hardly more than a horseshoe's throw from the scene of their latest triumph, after losing his job at another high-profile stable, that of Howard Johnson. "I learned a lot there, of course I did," said the Irishman, "but I've found a good friend in Nigel. It's all about trust and the confidence he's given me. We've grown together well and I simply couldn't be happier."

The ride Brennan gave Imperial Commander, having only the 10th race of his career and his fourth over fences, in a competitive large-field steeplechase, exemplified that belief in himself. He let his partner, running for the first time for nearly a year, track the trailblazing Yes Sir and then take over the lead at halfway in the two-and-a-half-mile contest. The tactics looked effortless, but the force of them shook off all challengers bar Barbers Shop, and he was readily repelled up the testing final hill by a willing two and three-quarter lengths.

"You can talk about the hurly-burly of a big field," said Brennan, "but that really only applies if you're not going well, and I was travelling every stride of the way. I was maybe in front a fence or two sooner than I wanted to be, but I didn't want to disappoint him or break the rhythm of his stride when he told me he was ready to go.

"In front, I was able to dictate, and give him a breather, he was filling himself up all the time. I know he had no weight, but what he gave me coming down the hill was nothing I've ever felt before. He'd certainly be the best chaser I've ridden, but not yet the best horse. Remember, I've been on Inglis Drever."

Imperial Commander, whose novice campaign last season was compromised by physical vicissitudes, was one of yesterday's lightweights – he carried just 10st 7lb – but the style of his success shot him to the forefront of the betting for the next valuable handicap in the programme, the Hennessy Gold Cup on Saturday week. And Twiston-Davies, not given to calling geese swans, made a most flattering comparison. "The vets put his problems down to growing pains," he said, "so let's hope we can keep him sound and keep him going. He's got class, speed, he jumps, everything you want. And he's such a big, scopey horse, very much in the Best Mate mould."

At respectful distances behind Imperial Commander, a 13-2 shot, and Barbers Shop (5-1) came Private Be (25-1) and Il Duce (40-1). The Paul Nicholls-trained favourite Silverburn, knocked out of contention by a mistake two out, finished sixth.

A moderate day for Nicholls – two second places and five beaten favourites – was made worse when his jockey Ruby Walsh was taken to hospital with bruising to his stomach after a fall from Pride Of Dulcote in the penultimate contest. "He got a little kick and is being checked out," said Nicholls, "and if it proves OK he'll ride tomorrow".

The massive £2 million Scoop 6 pool survived intact and will roll on to next Saturday's meetings, when the winning pot will top £4m. By the final leg yesterday, just 19 tickets survived, all thwarted by 14-1 shot Sunnyhill Boy.

Yesterday delivered some potential for the future – apart from Imperial Commander, his stablemate Ballyfitz took the staying novices' chase in promising fashion, Joe Lively looked every inch a Grand National type in the marathon handicap, and progressive juvenile Simarian put himself right in the Triumph Hurdle frame in the Grade Two juvenile opener – and this afternoon's sport promises more.

Back here, the opening two-mile novices' chase, sponsored by this newspaper, has a rich history of spotlighting talent and today features the exciting four-year-old Tatenen.

Two contests with potential significance on the Champion Hurdle take place within five minutes of each other. Some of the home side's pretenders to the crown will be trying to stake a claim in the Greatwood Hurdle though leading fancy Ashkazar now misses the race. At Punchestown comes the clash of Ireland's emerging generation, the six-year-olds Sizing Europe and Jered do battle but Harchibald is now an absentee in that one.