Thursday, November 18, 2010

6% unseated record? I’ll take that.


6% unseated record? I’ll take that.

by Stephen Dwyer

Here are a few points to note ahead of tomorrow’s Betfair Chase at Haydock.
1. It is the first Grade 1 chase of the British National Hunt Season and current Gold Cup Champion Imperial Commander begins a three-race season. He will run at Haydock, in the King George and The Gold Cup.
2. Imperial Commander runs well fresh, his seasonal reappearance record is 1-1-2
3. There is no Kauto Star in the race (Kauto has won 3 of the last 4 and would have won all 4 had he not unseated at the last in 2008 when in the lead)
4. In the 2009 renewal Imperial Commander was rated 21lbs inferior to Kauto Star but lost by just a nose.
5. Imperial Commander is currently trading at 8/11 and will win barring accidents, he has never fallen and unseated only once in his career, at Aintree when a tired horse, 1 “U” in 17 starts is just under 6%, I’ll take that.

Imperial Commander is top drawer, he has a current handicap rating of 185, second in the ratings only to Kauto Star and the race revolves around him being fit and fresh. Faith in the exploits of the 9 year old can only be affirmed by the comments of his Naunton-based trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies who stated he has a “very, very good chance of success in this race”.

Last Season, Imperial Commander’s race record read P251U-, not the most impressive of records on paper you would think, but you would be wrong. His solitary win, a near-flawless performance in the Cheltenham Gold Cup catapulted the son of Flemensfirth into the ranks of the best staying chasers around, a reputation he will surely maintain tomorrow.

Owned by the 8-strong “Our friends in the North” syndicate, many believe that defeat in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last year was the catalyst for his success in The Gold Cup. In a desperately close finish, jockey Paddy Brennan, punched the air passing the finishing line in the belief he had beaten the-then Gold Cup Champion, Kauto Star. This was not so and Paul Nicholls superstar inflicted another defeat on Imperial Commander in The King George when he beat him by 63 lengths before he turned the tables in Cheltenham when he was so conditioned and ripe, his trainer called him “a ball of muscle”.

With a prize fund of £200,000, The Betfair Chase (registered as the Lancashire Chase.) was first run in 2005. It served as part of a marketing event, the Betfair Million. Sponsor of the series sponsor, betting exchange Betfair, offered a £1,000,000 bonus to the winner of the Betfair Chase, King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup. After Kauto Star won the series in effortless fashion, Betfair changed the format to any first-three finisher achieving first or second at the Cheltenham Festival and then winning the Grand National. Last year it was The Betfair Million was dropped altogether.
Although just 7 go to post for the race, it is not a penalty kick for Imperial Commander; Paul Nicholls run’s the Sir. Alex Ferguson-owned What A Friend, who he describes as a “'lean, lean machine'”. Now recuperated from a breathing operation over the summer, What A Friend has already beaten Imperial Commander, he did so at Aintree in the Totesport Bowl Chase and prior to that he had a big win at Leopardstown over Christmas when he took the Lexus Chase. He is a tough sort and was beaten just once last season, by Denman in the Hennessy Gold Cup and at 7, the best may be yet to come.

Punchestown Guinness Gold Cup winner, Planet Of Sound may run into place claims, 100/1 outsider Atouchbetweenacara is only one of two entries with the benefit of a run this season. Nacarat, winner of the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase three weeks ago is not as top-class as Imperial Commander but should be the improving sort.

It will be very hard to beat Imperial Commander tomorrow; he was no flash in the pan at Cheltenham his jockey noted after schooling the gelding that “he felt every bit as well if not better than last year. There’s no such thing as a good thing in racing but I couldn’t be happier with my horse”.

The Imperial Commander Camp will be hoping to build momentum after the race on Saturday and they have every right to be confident, he may indeed prove imperious.

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