New Commander as big two crash
Imperial Commander signalled a new regime in the top rank of staying chasers when he ousted the big two, Kauto Star and Denman, in the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The billed heavyweight showdown between the Paul Nicholls' stablemates never materialised and it was Imperial Commander, trained locally by Nigel Twiston-Davies, who came out a worthy winner and is 3-1 favourite for a repeat in 2011.
Kauto Star, the 8-11 favourite and winner of the Gold Cup in 2007 and 2009, almost deposited Ruby Walsh at the eighth fence and he was never travelling thereafter.
Walsh was niggling away at the four-time King George VI Chase winner passing the stands and the pair then came to grief four fences from home.
Thankfully both horse and jockey were quickly on their feet as Imperial Commander squared up to 2008 winner Denman at the head of affairs.
Denman left his Newbury reverse last month well behind under Tony McCoy but the bruising combination were fighting for second place as Imperial Commander and Paddy Brennan went on at the second-last.
Any stamina doubts from onlookers were readily brushed aside as the 7-1 chance thundered up the hill for a sixth course success with his seven-length victory.
Twiston-Davies had already nearly upset the colossus of Kauto Star once this season as back in November Imperial Commander ran him to a nose at Haydock.
"You can never be confident of beating Kauto Star as he wins so well every year but both horses were only half-fit at Haydock and he proved himself that day that we are that class," said the Naunton handler.
"He is bred to stay and that is all he has ever done. He has always powered up the hill like it was flat and in another 10 yards at Haydock he would have beaten Kauto Star.
"We don't like shouting our mouths off, but I couldn't understand it as Denman had let his supporters down last time and Kauto cannot do it every year.
"I was the forgotten man and I hope you forget me again after this race."
Imperial Commander could now participate in the Betfair Bowl at Aintree in three weeks' time.
Twiston-Davies added: "I would like to run him at Liverpool. I don't imagine Denman or Kauto will run so it should be a penalty kick."
Brennan breezed past the winning post with his finger pressed firmly to his lips, and explaining the expression, he said: "All we have heard of the last three months is Kauto Star and Denman. It is good for racing but it was never a two-horse race.
"It's the best day of my life. I'm speechless. It was a dream the whole way."
Twiston-Davies and Brennan have forged a successful partnership since the rider moved from Howard Johnson's stable in 2007.
"I am not the easiest person to work with on a day-to-day basis," Brennan explained. "Nigel makes me feel that I am the best and you cannot buy that.
"He is not only a boss but a friend and he will be hard to replace.
"I am very proud to sit here and be part of the Nigel Twiston-Davies team."
Just when Twiston-Davies thought his afternoon could not get any better, the trainer went on to land the Christie's Foxhunter Chase with Baby Run, ridden by his son Sam, before completing a treble in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual with Pigeon Island.
After Baby Run's triumph, the trainer added: "It's been a hell of a 40 minutes. Maybe I'll die soon!"
Soldatino belied his inexperience to deny Barizan a gutsy front-running success in the JCB Triumph Hurdle.
Winning trainer Nicky Henderson said: "I'm thrilled for the horse.
"You nearly felt sorry for the second because he got away from them.
"I don't think you will see my horse again this season."
Paul Gilligan scored at the Festival with his first ever runner as Berties Dream plundered the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at 33-1.
Gilligan said: "It's unbelievable. Money can't buy a feeling like this."
Katie Walsh secured her second victory of the week on Thousand Stars in the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle.
Walsh said: "This is unbelievable, you cannot write this stuff."
The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle went to Emma Lavelle and Pause And Clause, ironically ridden by one of the Pipe team's leading conditionals in Johnny Farrelly.