Ready for one last battle
Connections hope to see Commander bow out in blaze of glory
IMPERIAL Commander will try to bow out in a blaze of glory in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury tomorrow.
The Our Friends In the North syndicate who own the 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero have decided the 12-year-old will sign off in the prestigious staying handicap chase whatever the result.
They believe the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained gelding is ready to run a big race as he bids to be the oldest horse ever to win the Hennessy.
"The syndicate as a whole are keen to retire the horse after the race. We see this as his last race. We are keen to retire him as we don't want to see him racing as a 13-year-old," said syndicate member Hugh Doubtfire.
"He's done everything we could have possibly have hoped for. He's run in the Gold Cup, the Grand National, the Paddy Power, the Ryanair - what an amazing horse he is.
"From the owners' point of view we realise we could keep going, but the plan is to run him in the Hennessy and say goodbye to him in terms of his racing career. Everybody in the racing world is not going to see him race again.
"We've been so thrilled and are so proud. We want him to get a good send-off on the track. We want him to go out the way he deserves.
"He was back in training earlier than usual this year as he ended up not going back to Ireland, so he's very fit and well and Nigel is very happy with him.
"He's been working well with other horses at home and seems incredibly fit and well and Nigel says he couldn't have him in a better place in terms of where we are now coming into the race.
"Obviously he's 12 years old and at the end of the day, he may not have the speed he had. Given that situation, one still hopes that his record fresh means he should run a big race.
"Personally I would have liked to have seen softer ground because he's 12 and they tend to go quite quick in the Hennessy. Although traditionally he had a high cruising speed, I think in the Argento earlier this year he travelled ever so well in the heavy ground.
"Providing the ground doesn't get too quick, I think he will run a big race."
In contrast, it could be said to be almost the start for Invictus. The seven-year-old, trained by Alan King, not raced since beating Bobs Worth, last season's Hennessy and Gold Cup hero, in the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot in February 2012.
Despite a 21-month absence, Invictus has been near at the head of the ante-post market.
"I think his odds are absurd as, while there are plenty of positives, he also has questions to answer," the Barbury Castle handler told www.alankingracing.co.uk.
"He has been to Newbury twice for racecourse gallops and he's working very well, and we couldn't have done any more with him fitness wise.
"He seems to have retained all of his ability and I think the ground will be absolutely fine, as I don't think he wants extremes. He's also quite possibly well handicapped.
"Everything has gone great in his preparation, but it is just a shame that we were unable to squeeze a prep-race in and whatever he does here he will, hopefully, improve on next time.
"We are going into the unknown as he has never run in a big field of handicappers - all his wins came in five or six-runner novices - so he lacks experience, but I have never disguised how highly he rate him and, while I emphasise he faces a huge task, we are looking forward to the challenge."
Lord Windermere has been well-supported this week as he tries to emulate Bobs Worth by winning both the RSA Chase and Hennessy in the same year.
His trainer Jim Culloty expects a big run, although he would have liked to have given him a prep run.
"He's done plenty and is as fit as I can get him. He did a blinding piece of work last week at the Curragh and I couldn't be happier with him," the County Cork handler said.
"Obviously going into a race like that I'd have loved to have had a run under his belt, but that's not the case. It's ground conditions really as much as anything in Ireland. It's been a lot drier in Ireland than it has in England.
"He's a year older and he is the exact same weight as he was for his first time out last year. He's promised to be a horse better over a longer trip. We started him off over two miles as he'd got form at that trip over hurdles and we gradually stepped him up.
"But last season in Ireland, the ground was absolutely bottomless the whole year basically so that's why I didn't step him up three miles earlier.
"Saturday's race will be furthest than he's ever gone in his life, but I'm not worried about that really."