Imperial Commander to rule at Cheltenham

THERE have only been five 10-year-old winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup since 1970 and no horse older has won since What A Myth in 1969, but that could all be about to change in today’s highlight. The winners of the last four renewals all line-up and there won’t be a dry eye in the house if either Kauto Star or Denman are successful again.

Kauto Star was going for an unprecedented fifth straight King George in January, but he didn’t perform to his best on the day and was beaten before a bad mistake at the second last. Unfortunately, he just doesn’t seem to be quite the same horse this season, despite the fact Paul Nicholls reckons he may now be better suited to Cheltenham than Kempton. He has been a wonderful servant to the game, but all good things come to an end and as an 11-year-old, he looks past his peak.

Denman is a brute of a horse and arguably put up a career best performance in the Hennessy in November when he finished third to Diamond Harry conceding lumps of weight. He has since had a breathing operation and there is a chance that could give him a boost, but he is another in the twilight of his career and it’s difficult to see him winning this at 11.

He has never been out of the first two at Cheltenham, though, so there will be plenty of people backing ‘The Tank’ each-way.

There is lots of rain forecast at Cheltenham this morning and how much falls will have a big effect on the market. However, IMPERIAL COMMANDER is the one horse who won’t mind if the ground is good or soft and this fellow simply loves Cheltenham.

A winner of five of his six chase starts at Prestbury Park, he absolutely bolted up in this race last year and although he was beaten at Aintree and only just held off Tidal Bay at Haydock, I think he is the one to beat this afternoon.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ stable star hasn’t had the ideal preparation, picking up a small injury in November, but he has a brilliant record fresh and I like the fact he missed the King George, as Kempton doesn’t seem to suit him. He is a 10-year-old, and the last winner from that age bracket was Cool Ground in 1998, but the top Gold Cup horses nowadays are relatively lightly raced as their trainers look to preserve their careers.

Long Run was brilliant in the King George and he has now produced his two best career performances at the Sunbury track. There is no doubt that he has the potential to win a Gold Cup, but he is a six-year-old and no horse from that age bracket has won the Gold Cup since Mill House in 1963.

It will be interesting to see how he jumps the first few fences and he could be an in-running play on Betdaq.

The Irish have had a great week and they have two live chances in Pandorama and Kempes. They are both second season chasers and have the potential to put it up to the old guard. However, they are ground dependant, so if it rains, Pandorama would have a great each-way shout, while if it stays dry, Willie Mullins’ Kempes may well surprise a few.

China Rock and Tidal Bay are other interesting contenders, but it would be a surprise if either was good enough to beat Imperial Commander, who looks a cracking bet at 7/2 with Sportingbet.

Follow all my news live from the track on Twitter @Bill Esdaile.


I’m sort of glad today is the final day of the Festival. However, we still have the blue riband event and a couple of handicaps to get us out of a hole. Three seconds in the first race on each day’s card, I really need to go one better. I think the answer is UNACCOMPANIED (5% Win). This daughter of Danehill Dancer has been an impressive winner so far this year and she should definitely have more in the tank. The County Hurdle at 2.05pm might have an English winner, something quite rare at this meeting with the Venetia Williams trained CICERON (2% e/w). I’m a little concerned about the going but I’m going to give this Pivotal gelding the benefit of the doubt.

I’ve been waiting for BOBS WORTH (5% win) to run all week (2.40pm) and I’m not going to desert Nicky Henderson’s charge now. In the Gold Cup I can’t see beyond IMPERIAL COMMANDER (5% Win) as I think he has everything in his favour including not having had a recent run as he goes so well fresh. It should be a great race and I can see some longer priced runners making the frame. I’m not sure we are going to see a ‘Norton’s Coin’ but you never know.

Elsewhere I like the look of JAUNTY FLIGHT (3% Win – 4.00pm), SHOEGAZER (4% e/w – 4.40pm) and OH CRICK (5% Win) in the last.