National option for Commander

Imperial Commander could be targeted at the John Smith’s Grand National in April after being ruled out of the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.

A lung infection has put paid to the dream of the 12-year-old attempting to regain the blue riband prize of jumps racing.

Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies was convinced Imperial Commander was back in the same sort of form which saw him defeat Denman and Kauto Star in the 2010 renewal.

Having pulled up with a broken blood vessel the following year, he missed a whole season but came back at Cheltenham in January with a fine run when only narrowly denied by Cape Tribulation in the Argento Chase.

“He’s got a lung infection so he won’t be going to Cheltenham, that’s that,” said Twiston-Davies.

“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.”

Paul Costello, syndicate manager for owners Our Friends In The North, said: “He worked (Tuesday morning) and he was not right.

“With it being this close to the Festival we didn’t want to take any chances.

“His safety and well-being are obviously paramount so we had to give it a miss.

“It’s a desperate shame as we were expecting a big run from him – he’s definitely got it in him.

“Older horses can be susceptible to more little problems than younger horses, but I think this has just been a bit of bad luck that could have happened at any time.”

Imperial Commander was given 11st 6lb in the National and the owners may consider that along with other major races later in the spring.

“He’s got an entry in National, and he would have a nice weight, so we wouldn’t close the door on that just yet,” said Costello.

“I know it (the National) has been mentioned, but it’s maybe just as likely we’ll look at the Betfred Bowl or maybe even Punchestown.

“It would be too soon to look to far ahead, but hopefully we’ll have him back, fighting fit, in the spring.”

Imperial Commander’s regular jockey Paddy Brennan would be happy to take the National as a consolation prize.

“He’ll never run in a Gold Cup again, that’s the bottom line,” he told At The Races.

“But if he wins a Grand National, I won’t be complaining.”

Meanwhile Cue Card will not take on Sprinter Sacre in the Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham this day week.

The 2010 Champion Bumper winner will instead run in the Ryanair Chase a day later, as long as Sprinter Sacre is able to take his chance in the two-mile showpiece.

Cue Card was beaten seven lengths by Nicky Henderson’s ace in the Arkle Trophy last year and connections want to avoid him this time.

They feel Cue Card’s best chance of success is in the Ryanair Chase over the longer distance of two miles and five furlongs.

“He will run in the Ryanair, but he will be left in the Champion Chase,” said trainer Colin Tizzard.

“If the favourite (Sprinter Sacre) runs in the Champion Chase we will go for the Ryanair.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it? We would be foolish not to leave him in the Champion Chase in case something happened to the big black horse (Sprinter Sacre).”

Champion Flat jockey Richard Hughes is hoping to add a Cheltenham Festival success to his CV next week.

Hughes, who will be at the meeting helping with his father Irish trainer Dessie’s runners, has applied for a jumps licence.

He is keen to ride the unbeaten Sgt Reckless for West Ilsley trainer Mick Channon in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper.

Hughes said: “I’ve got a good ride, hopefully. He looks pretty good. I have to get my licence first, but I shall be at Cheltenham anyway.

“I’ve ridden in the bumper before but had no joy.

“I’ve been placed in a lot of the races, but never won one.”

Hughes, who was crowned champion jockey for the first time last season, has rides on the Flat at Lingfield and Kempton on Wednesday.

A BHA spokesman confirmed that Hughes’ application was going through the standard procedure.

He said: “He has put in a request for a licence and it’s going through the normal process.”

*Horse Racing Ireland has announced a number of changes to the Irish Flat Pattern programme for 2013 which includes two races being upgraded.

The races approved by the European Pattern Committee to be run at a higher level this year are the Kilboy Estate Stakes at the Curragh on July 21, which will now be run as a Group Two race instead of a Group Three, while the Icon Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Trial will be run as a Group Three rather than a Listed race on September 7.

The Royal Whip at the Curragh on August 11 and Leopardstown’s 2000 Guineas Trial on April 14 have, however, been downgraded from a Group Two to a Group Three and a Group Three to Listed respectively.

HRI also announced an increase to the fillies’ allowance which will rise from 3lb to 5lb following an analysis of all fillies in Listed races for the past three years.

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