03/19/2010 12:00AM

Imperial Commander takes Cheltenham Gold Cup


Imperial Commander won the $725,000 Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday as the odds-on favorite, Kauto Star, fell at the fourth-last fence in a failed effort to win jump racing's premier steeplechase for the third time. Sent off as the 8-11 choice, Kauto Star, who had made a bad mistake at the eighth fence, was being ridden along in fifth place with about a mile left in the 3 5/16-mile chase. Ruby Walsh asked him for a big effort at the 19th of 22 fences, but Kauto Star flubbed it, crashing to the ground with his stablemate Denman holding a narrow advantage.

But Paddy Brennan had Imperial Commander nearly alongside in cruise control. Jumping impeccably, the 7-1 shot led approaching the second-last fence, and with the 4-1 Denman weakening, Imperial Commander pulled clear to defeat Denman - winner of the 2008 Gold Cup - by seven widening lengths. It was another 23 lengths back to the 50-1 Mon Mome, who stayed on late to nip early pacesetter Carruthers by a short head for third in a performance that bodes well for a defense of his Grand National title on April 10.

Kauto Star was unhurt in the spill, rising to his feet immediately and being ridden back to the unsaddling area by Walsh, bowed but unbroken, the only faller in the 11-runner field. Meanwhile, the crowd roared the return of Imperial Commander. The winner of the 2 5/8-mile, Grade 3 Festival Trophy Chase at Cheltenham last March, he had been beaten by Kauto Star in his last two starts when he was second by a nose in the Lancashire Chase at Haydock on Nov. 21, and fifth by 64 lengths in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Dec. 26. Owned by a syndicate called Our Friends in the North, Imperial Commander was giving veteran trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies his first Gold Cup triumph as he traveled the 3 5/16 miles in 6:43.80 on ground labeled good, good to soft in places.