ANOTHER of Denis O’Regan’s now typical waiting rides was just enough for Cape Tribulation to prevent a showstopping comeback from Imperial Commander in the Argento Chase at Cheltenham.
For a National Hunt crowd starved of action for some days, the feature event of a glittering card almost provided the dream outcome for local hero Imperial Commander, the 2010 Gold Cup winner.
The vigour remained with the veteran as he tore through the final circuit and opponents dropped gradually away, but O’Regan shadowed Paddy Brennan, redoubling his efforts when Cape Tribulation (7-1) jumped sloppily in the home straight and summoned half a length extra in a memorable finish.
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Cautious as ever, Cape Tribulation’s North Yorkshire trainer Malcolm Jefferson would barely commit the northern raider for the Gold Cup after winning one of its key trials, albeit in a result which will not have connections of the market leaders running for cover.
Already successful in a handicap hurdle at the last Festival, he has formed a fine relationship with O’Regan, whose confidence in his ability remains sky-high.
“He has been a great horse for me and I’m chuffed to bits to be riding him,’’ said the Irishman.
“Imperial Commander seemed to be bounding along with enthusiasm and I pulled out to follow him. He made a mistake, but thankfully I had enough in reserve.’’ Jefferson said: “Now I think we’ll probably have to come back for the Gold Cup. I’m not saying he’s going to win it but he might get placed in one, this year’s especially.
“He’s in the World Hurdle, but he is jumping so well now I think the Gold Cup is the race he’ll go for.
‘‘On his day he’s a good horse. Denis was brilliant, but if a horse does everything right these are good jockeys and they know what to do.
‘‘He might be better on better ground and if could get a place in the Gold Cup that might be better than running with a big weight in a handicap.’’ Nigel Twiston-Davies was rightly full of praise for Imperial Commander.
He said: “You’d have to be delighted and if we’d been able to get him fit enough he probably would have won.
“It’s been so difficult getting him back with his splint problems but we have kept him swimming and that made all the difference. He kept tanking and if he had settled better he would probably have had more of a finishing kick.
“There are six weeks to to the Gold Cup and that is plenty of time.’’ Third home Hunt Ball travelled as well as anything for a long way before just finding his stamina running out on the ground, and his trainer Keiran Burke also confirmed a Gold Cup bid was in the offing.
He said: “We were going to go for the Racing Plus Chase, but I think we will give that a swerve and go straight to the Gold Cup.
“He’ll get the trip on better ground.’’ David Pipe could offer no explanation for the run of favourite Grands Crus, who dropped away as tamely as he had in the Paddy Power Gold Cup earlier in the season.