Past Winners » Imperial Commander


(Written 6th January)

Of course it is long odds-on that either Kauto Star or Denman will win the Gold Cup. Kauto is the third best steeplechaser of all time according to Timeform, behind only Arkle and Flyingbolt and the equal of Mill House, having won his latest King George, his fourth, the first horse in history to win four of them in a row. Denman looked as good as ever when winning the Hennessy last time off a rating of 174, 13lb higher than when he won the race in 2007, with the runner-up, his stable companion What A Friend, to whom he gave 22lb and a three-and-a-half-length beating, coming out and beating the best staying chasers that Ireland could put together in the Lexus Chase last week.

In one sense, it is folly to oppose them. Kauto Star is rated 13lb superior to Denman officially, and Denman is 8lb superior to the next best. Also, if you do take them on, you will be in a lonely place. The hype that this match-up will generate in the lead up to the Gold Cup – or the hype that it should generate, if the BHA does its job properly – will probably be unprecedented. People will be asked Kauto or Denman, defeat for both will be an eventuality that will not be even considered as a possibility by most, and if you have backed something else in the race your sanity is likely to be questioned.

However, this betting game is all about value, and I am not so sure that the disparity in prices between the Ditcheat Duo and Imperial Commander is not too great, and the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained gelding is well over-priced for me at 20/1. In a normal year, Imperial Commander would be a real contender. Winner of the Ryanair Chase at the Festival last season, my big worry about him as a Gold Cup contender both last year and this year centred on his stamina. Before the Betfair Chase at Haydock last November, he had run over three miles or further under rules five times, and he had never finished better than third, and that was over hurdles. The highest Racing Post Rating that he had recorded over three miles or further was 135 and, again, that was over hurdles. His highest RPR in three runs over three miles or further over fences was 122. That compares unfavourably with RPRs of 161 and 169 over two and a half miles.

However, if you wanted to, you could have found excuses for all of his poor runs over three miles, and his run in the Betfair Chase proved that you should have. There are no doubts now surrounding his stamina for three miles, and he has every chance of getting three and a quarter.

You can easily forgive his run in the King George this year. The Twiston-Davies horses were just starting their traditional mid-season lull, he has never been at his best going right-handed (that is not conclusive, but the balance of probability suggests that he is much better going left), he had disappointed on his only previous run at Kempton and, on top of all that, he made a desperate mistake at the second fence in the King George from which he did really well to even get back in there amongst his rivals. His jumping lacked fluency thereafter (although that may have been a right-handed thing), and you can easily forgive him that run.

Imperial Commander excels at Cheltenham. In five runs there over fences, he has only been beaten once, and that was when he was wrong in the novices’ chase at the December meeting in 2007, so wrong that he missed the rest of the season. Crucially, he is a Cheltenham Festival winner, and his trainer says that he is going to be trained specifically for the Gold Cup this season.

Even on official ratings, he only has 8lb to find with Denman. Denman has run 13 times over fences, Imperial Commander has run nine times, he is a year younger and he is probably the more progressive. Even on that evidence alone, it is very easy to argue that he shouldn’t be 10 times Denman’s price.

Final point on the win part of the bet. At current best prices (11/8 Kauto, 2/1 Denman) it is 1/3 that one of the big two will win the race, and that may just be a little too short. Most people seem to have overlooked the fact that both Kauto Star and Denman are now 10 years old. 10-year-olds have a horrendous record in the Gold Cup. Cool Dawn in 1998 was the last horse of that age to win the race. In the 10 renewals since, 31 10-year-olds have run – some of them well fancied, including Looks Like Trouble in 2002 and See More Business in 2000 – and only two have been placed. If you had had €1 each-way on every one of them, you would be showing a net loss of €40, this despite the fact that Go Ballistic was second in 1999 at 66/1.

Contrast 10-year-olds with nine-year-olds, Imperial Commander’s age group. Thirty-five nine-year-olds have run in the last 10 renewals (only four more nine-year-olds than 10-year-olds), three of them have won and seven more have been placed. If you had had €1 each-way on every nine-year-old, you would be showing a net profit of €2. Kauto Star and Denman may transcend stats, but this one is still well worth bearing in mind.

Other alternatives to the Ditcheat Duo are thin on the ground. I like Cooldine, but he has been disappointing now in both of his runs since his RSA blitz last season, and he has to bounce back from coming home an unwell horse after disappointing in the Lexus. On top of that, he has 14lb to find on Imperial Commander on official ratings, and he is the same price. There is no doubt where the value lies at this stage.

Joncol didn’t stay in the Lexus for me, having hinted at a possible stamina deficiency at Punchestown last April, and he is long odds against to get up the hill at the end of an extended three and a quarter miles even if he does take his chance, which can’t be any better than 50-50 at this stage. It is highly unlikely that the ground will be soft enough to blunt the pace of the classier horses sufficiently in order to allow Notre Pere or Money Trix into it, Glencove Marina didn’t show enough on his reappearance over hurdles to be seriously considered at this stage, Barbers Shop shouldn’t stay and is probably Ryanair Chase bound anyway, Madison Du Berlais needs a flat track, and Carruthers shouldn’t be good enough and probably needs it softer than it is going to be (he has 19lb to find with Imperial Commander on official ratings).

What A Friend would be a danger if he put everything together. He was desperately disappointing in the RSA Chase last year, you never felt last season that connections thought that he had the class to graduate into a genuine Gold Cup contender, and I am still not sure about his head for a battle up the hill. That said, he is a progressive young chaser, a seven-year-old, the same age as three of the last five winners, and the 33/1 that Paddy Power are offering about him is big enough. The vibes about him, a stable companion of the big two, will be monitored over the next couple of weeks.

All things considered, however, the 20/1 about Imperial Commander is a fair bit too big at this stage in my book, and the 5/1 that you are getting about him finishing in the first three with an each-way bet is well worth having as well. He is only 4/1 without Kauto Star and Denman with the only firm betting on that market.