Twiston-Davies 'chuffed' with former Gold Cup hero
CHELTENHAM was lit up on Saturday by an old champion and the new kid on the block.
The 2010 Gold Cup hero Imperial Commander returned to the sort of reception reserved for winners after the Argento Chase.
It was a marvellous comeback following 680 days sidelined through injury and he was only caught in the shadow of the post by Cape Tribulation.
Meanwhile, Sprinter Sacre, officially the best jumping horse in training, added further lustre to his golden reputation when winning the Victor Chandler Chase.
Naunton trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies endured a frustrating day not only with Imperial Commander. His up-and-coming star The New One also suffered a near-miss when second in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle – but he was delighted with both horses.
Beforehand, jockey Paddy Brennan had insisted that Imperial Commander had retained all his enthusiasm for racing, and so it proved.
He jumped superbly, dominated for the last three-quarters of a mile, and appeared to have seen off the challenge of Cape Tribulaton – himself a Festival winner, of course – halfway up the final hill. But, literally yards from the post, the Commander proved vulnerable to a final rally from the Northern raider and he was beaten, although as the acclaim indicated, he lost nothing in defeat.
“I am chuffed to bits,” said his proud trainer, who maintained the horse had room for improvement. “He fractured a splint bone in his preparation and we would not have got him here but for our (equine) swimming pool at home.
“It’s now the Gold Cup for him and he will have an entry in the Grand National, too.”
The New One held a three-length lead with just a furlong to run but, despite keeping on strongly, he was reeled in by an inspired Tony McCoy on At Fishers Cross. The New One enhanced his reputation among the best staying novices even in defeat and remains a major player at the Festival.
Coneygree, owned in partnership by Ashton Keynes resident Alan Waller and Lady Oaksey among others, could not hang on to the principals up the hill and was probably exposed as just short of top class.
Class is what Sprinter Sacre has in abundance. The genuine fears his trainer Nicky Henderson expressed before the race about his stable star being able to cope with the deep ground proved totally unfounded.
Sprinter Sacre simply floated over the mud, jumped like a stag and will be a prohibitive price for the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March.
The Ladbrokes World Hurdle has been thrown wide open by the injury to four-time winner Big Buck’s.
The two horses who now head the ante-post market for the World Hurdle – Reve De Sivola and Oscar Whisky – served up a cracking finish to the Cleeve Hurdle, with Nick Williams’ West Country-based Reve De Sivola just denying Nicky Henderson another big race winner.
Earlier, Henderson’s Rolling Star, under a supremely confident ride from Barry Geraghty, had stalked the highly-rated Paul Nicholls juvenile hurdler Irish Saint before brushing him aside up the final hill.
Rolling Star looks a worthy 5-1 favourite for the Triumph Hurdle, while the Venetia Williams-trained Katenko put himself forward as a lively Gold Cup outsider when coping with the fences, the ground and the opposition in the Murphy Chase.
But as the crowd left the course in the twilight, there were just two talking points – the swaggering Sprinter Sacre and the return of a local hero in Imperial Commander.