Another of Denis O’Regan’s now typical waiting rides was just enough for Cape Tribulation to prevent a show-stopping 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 and course regular who had been sidelined with various ailments for not far off two years.
The vigour remained with the veteran as he tore through the final circuit and opponents dropped away, but O’Regan shadowed Paddy Brennan, redoubling his efforts when Imperial Commander (7-1) jumped sloppily in the home straight and summoned half a length extra in a memorable finish.
Cautious as ever, Cape Tribulation’s trainer Malcolm Jefferson would barely commit the northern raider for the Gold Cup after winning one of its key trials. Already successful in a handicap hurdle at the last Festival, he has formed a fine relationship with O’Regan.
“He has been a great horse 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.”
Nigel Twiston-Davies was 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. There are six weeks to go to the Gold Cup and that is plenty of time.”
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.
Earlier Sprinter Sacre took Grade One honours in the Victor Chandler Chase with his customary panache.
Nicky Henderson’s pride and joy was again electric at his fences, taking it up on the run to the sixth-last, after Mad Moose had opened a sizeable early advantage on the field.
Barry Geraghty quickened matters noticeably going to three out and while Sanctuaire had crept into it from the rear, his threat was only a fleeting one and Sprinter Sacre was majestic over the last two fences.
Geraghty said: “He’s so natural, he’s one of the most natural I’ve ridden. I was afraid of the ground and didn’t think it would suit him. He jumped brilliant. He coped with that ground so well.”