Imperial Commander gate-crashed the showdown between Kauto Star and Denman to run out a fantastic winner of the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The race had been billed as a clash between the two stablemates from Paul Nicholls’ yard – but Nigel Twiston-Davies had his charge tuned to the minute.
There was an early warning sign everything was not going to plan for two-time winner Kauto Star when he demolished the eighth fence and did well to stay on his feet, with Ruby Walsh performing miracles in the saddle.
Denman had been travelling sweetly for Tony McCoy, putting in some prodigious leaps, and along with Carruthers helped force the pace.
With a mile to run Walsh was sending out a few distress signals on the odds-on favourite and his race came to an abrupt end with a crashing fall at the fourth-last. He returned unscathed.
Cooldine and Imperial Commander (7-1) were still in contention at this point, both going well, but when McCoy kicked on only Paddy Brennan was still sat motionless on the eventual winner.
A couple of fine leaps at the final two fences sealed a seven-length victory for Imperial Commander to give Brennan the biggest victory of his career. Grand National winner Mon Mome ran a huge race to be third at 50-1.
Brennan said: “It’s by far the best day of my life. I’m speechless. It was a dream the whole way.
“I’ve just got to take time to thank my boss (Twiston-Davies). He’s the best boss ever – he’s produced two horses this week (Imperial Commander and Champion Hurdle runner-up Khyber Kim) and I just had had to steer them.”
Twiston-Davies, twice a winner of the Grand National, said: “It’s absolutely superb.
“I thought Kauto was in trouble some way out before he fell.
“All the hacks (press) were saying he didn’t stay so we’ll go for the Ryanair next year!
“It’s just absolutely brilliant. It’s been very hard for us sat there with the third-favourite when all the talk was about Kauto and Denman but we always knew we were going to win.
“You can’t beat the Grand National but this is very good for the CV.
“We were second in the Champion Hurdle (Khyber Kim), which was a disaster, but this is great.
“Everytime he’s come to Cheltenham he’s powered up the hill, he’s always stayed.
“Paddy has given him a beautiful ride. Very cool, very sensible and he got him jumping.
“Denman was brilliant. Having watched him at Newbury I thought he maybe wasn’t the horse he was, but he was today.”
McCoy said: “When we came down the hill he (Imperial Commander) was going a bit better than me. I hoped he might stop, but that’s not the way it turned out.
“It’s better than finishing third and better than what happened to Ruby, but it’s still disappointing.
“At times he travelled well, but at the water jump he wanted to down the lot and he ran a little bit in snatches.
“You could not make any excuses for him. He was just beaten by a better horse on the day.
“He has to be a good ride in the Grand National (next year), but I can’t see Ruby coming off him.”
Denman’s joint-owner Paul Barber said: “On this ground I was absolutely thrilled with Denman. Let’s not forget the best horse won by a long way today and I look forward to taking him on again next year.”
Walsh said of Kauto Star: “You cannot afford to make mistakes like that in Grade One company.
“The winner made a mistake in the King George and that was him done. I made a mistake and we were down. That’s the way it goes in racing.
“His first one was a bad mistake. It knocked me out of position and I could not get him on an even keel.
“You can’t make a mistake like that against horses of the calibre of Imperial Commander, Denman and Cooldine.
“You are always struggling and I was fighting a lost cause.
“It was a bad fall but he got up and there’s not a bother on him. He cantered back down fresh as a daisy, not a bother on him.”