Imperial Commander out of King George
On the afternoon that he was named jumps trainer of the year by his sport's scribes, pundits and commentators, Nigel Twiston-Davies had to admit that even his skills were not up to getting recently-injured Imperial Commander back to full fitness in time for the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.
The nine-year-old gelding damaged a foreleg in the process of making a successful seasonal debut in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last month and, although he started light exercise last week after a period confined to his box, a setback means that his diary has been cleared. In fact, he may not run again before he defends his Gold Cup title at Cheltenham in March.
“He has a slight infection in his leg,” said Twiston-Davies yesterday, “and it means we won't be able to get him cherry-ripe for Kempton. It's nothing serious, we just ran out of time; he's back on antibiotics and he can't canter for two weeks. It's likely that he'll go straight for the Gold Cup now, but that's not written in stone, depending on how things develop along the way.”
Imperial Commander had been third market choice for the Grade 1 festive showpiece, behind four-time winner Kauto Star and young pretender Long Run. But though he had never been competitive in two previous tries at the William Hill-sponsored three-miler, Twiston-Davies had been relishing another crack at Kauto Star.
“I'm not bottling it,” he said, “I'd have done anything to get him to Kempton. We wanted to prove we are the best horse around, but he'll be at the Gold Cup in March and we'll do it then.”
Kauto Star, trained by Paul Nicholls, has now hardened to as short as 10-11 for an unprecedented fifth King George triumph.
The lack of obstacle racing yesterday did not thwart Tony McCoy's quest for winners; the Ulsterman took the bumper on Tazzarine at Southwell's all-weather track at just about the time he was being named jump jockey of the year at the 44th annual Horserace Writers' & Photographers' Association ceremony in London, the 12th occasion on which he has taken that award. Other winners included Paul Hanagan, Richard Hannon, John Gosden and Khaled Abdullah.