Imperial out of King George with Gold Cup defence next

Reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Imperial Commander has been ruled out of the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

• Imperial Commander suffered a cut leg when winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock last month and trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies has decided it best that his stable star sits out the King George Picture: Getty Images

The nine-year-old suffered a cut to his leg when making a winning comeback in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last month and connections have now admitted defeat in the race for him to be fit for a Christmas appearance.

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While his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies is not making any definite plans, he admits it is now likely his star turn will head straight back to Cheltenham in March to defend his crown.

"He's out of the King George. He just has a slight infection in his leg and it means we will not be able to get him absolutely cherry-ripe for Kempton," said the Naunton handler.

"It's nothing serious at all. He will probably go straight to the Gold Cup, but that's not written in stone."

That leaves Kauto Star the clear even-money favourite for the King George, with Long Run next at 5-1, Forpadydeplasterer at 8-1, then 12-1 Nacarat, Riverside Theatre, and Sizing Europe, while all other entries are available at 14-1 and upwards.

Meanwhile, last year's winner Poquelin heads 18 five-day entries for the Vote AP Gold Cup at Cheltenham on Saturday.

Andy Stewart's gelding has top weight of 11st 12lb, 4lb more than he carried when success 12 months ago. His trainer Paul Nicholls has also left in French import Robinson Collonges, a facile winner of a three-horse affair at Hereford last time.

Little Josh will try to follow up his win in last month's Paddy Power Gold Cup over the course when Poquelin was fifth while his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies is also represented by Pigeon Island. Nicky Henderson fields a strong double act in Paddy Power fourth Mad Max and course winner Dave's Dream.

Dancing Tornado took runner-up spot in the Paddy Power and his trainer Michael Hourigan will be hoping to go one better. That horse's owner JP McManus has Tom Taaffe's Finger Onthe Pulse and the Jonjo O'Neill-trained Sunnyhillboy as well.

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Dancing Tornado and Finger Onthe Pulse are two of the six Irish-trained possibles along with Tony Martin's pair of Psycho and Northern Alliance, Noel Glynn's Gonebeyondrecall and Paul Magnier's Duers.

David Pipe is two-handed with Great Endeavour and Matuhi while the line-up is completed by Nicky Richards' Noble Alan, Henrietta Knight's Calgary Bay and Pickamus from Henry Daly's stable. Knight had intended to send Calgary Bay to Doncaster but with prospects of racing seemingly better at Cheltenham, the West Lockinge trainer is expecting the seven-year-old to go there instead.

"We had hoped Calgary Bay would go to Doncaster this weekend but that looks hopeless, so he'll probably go to Cheltenham," said Knight.

"They have to run somewhere and at least Cheltenham have covers down."

The weather continues to bite hard and officials at Ludlow have decided to abandon Thursday's meeting without holding their planned inspection. Clerk of the course Bob Davies initially announced he would check the course at noon today but with conditions worsening, he feels there is little point in delaying the inevitable.

"There's no point in waiting any longer. We had minus 8C on Sunday night, we've had freezing fog all day and the temperatures today only reached minus 5C," said Davies. "there is no point messing people around."