Slight doubt over Commander’s King George bid

IT is a case of two down and one to go after Imperial Commander put up a solid display to land the Betfair Chase at Haydock on his seasonal bow on Saturday.

The reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup king was the second of the triumvirate of blue riband winners to return to action following Kauto Star’s Down Royal romp earlier this month.

It is now left to Denman to make his comeback in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury next weekend and if all goes to plan, it will be game on again for Cheltenham.

Imperial Commander went down by a nose to Kauto in the Betfair last year but with that rival not in the line-up this time, he banished that disappointment with a super round of jumping to win eased-down by a length and a quarter from the fast-finishing Tidal Bay.

A delighted Nigel Twiston-Davies said: “That’s just what I wanted. It was absolutely superb and I couldn’t be happier.

“He will definitely come on for the race. He hasn’t had a racecourse gallop or anything.”

However, Twiston-Davies was forced to sound a slight note of caution yesterday with regards to a King George bid at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day, as he revealed: “He came back with a little cut on his foreleg.

“He’ll be in his box for a week and we’ll have to monitor it, obviously, but hopefully we should have him cantering again after that and hopefully have him ready for the King George.”

Jockey Paddy Brennan is looking forward to a clash with Kauto Star, who is bidding to win the Christmas cracker for an unprecedented fifth time.

“In the King George this year I’ll ride him much handier than last year,” he said.

“Obviously we’ve all got the favourite Kauto Star to beat but this year he’s missing one of the most important people associated with him and that’s Ruby Walsh and that gives us all a bit of hope.”

Brennan wished he hadn’t eased Imperial Commander down in the closing stages, allowing Tidal Bay to get to within a length and a quarter at the line.

“I wasn’t very pleased with my riding towards the finish. I would never want any young jockey to do what I did,” he went on.

“I put the race to bed, but when I sat up on him it was like a car going into neutral – he really pulled up.

“I stopped riding about 100 yards from the line and was looking after the horse, but we should all learn and push out more to the line.

“On soft ground like that as soon as you drop the accelerator they can go down in gears very quickly.”

Paul Nicholls must have been a shade disappointed that the well-fancied What A Friend could finish only fifth in the race, but the Ditcheat trainer was still on a high after seeing Master Minded roar back into life at Ascot.

The seven-year-old looked invincible after winning a second Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2009 but a rib injury derailed his early campaign last term and he failed to really recover his usual sparkle.

However, seemingly rejuvenated following a breathing operation over the summer, 5-6 favourite Master Minded bounded to a wide-margin win in the two-mile-three-furlong Amlin 1965 Chase.

Nicholls said: “He travelled brilliantly and jumped brilliantly – he obviously got the trip really well too.

“I’m chuffed to bits, we’re back in business.

“One day, Clive (Smith, owner) would love to go for the King George and maybe we will next year. His next race will be the Tingle Creek at Sandown, and we’ll sit down and discuss what we do next after that.”

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Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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