If jump racing fans were asked to list the top-ten staying chasers of the last dozen years, many would include Imperial Commander and Tidal Bay.
Both had illustrious careers which included wonderful victories at the Cheltenham Festival. Nigel Twiston-Davies’ star chaser was virtually unbeatable at Prestbury Park. He won the Paddy Power Gold Cup in 2008 before storming to victory in the Ryanair Chase at the Festival four months later.
The following March he ran his greatest race when defeating two of jump racing’s legends to win the Gold Cup. The race had been billed as a duel between Kauto Star and Denman, but a dominant display saw the local hero re-writing the script. Kauto had made a serious error on the first circuit which put him on the back foot. He then took a crashing fall four out, leaving his stable companion pressing for home. But ‘The Commander’ had stalked Denman from the start and devoured the famous hill, storming to a seven-length victory.
A Betfair Chase victory followed for the new Champ, but the rest of his career was beset with injury. Pulled up in the following Gold Cup he was then off the track for almost two years before a stunning return in the Argento Chase saw him get within a length of victory. A failed attempt at the Grand National followed before being retired after pulling up in the Hennessy Gold Cup of 2013. He was a horse of a lifetime for Nigel Twiston-Davies and his team.
Tidal Bay had announced himself as an exceptional hurdler when coming within a whisker of winning the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle (then the Ballymore Properties) in 2007. He switched to fences and the following March won the Arkle Chase in spectacular style. Taking the lead turning for home, he put 13 lengths between himself and the rest.
Unfortunate to be a two-mile chaser at the time of Master Minded, he was stepped-up in trip and was fourth behind Imperial Commander in the Ryanair of 2009. Spells over fences and hurdles followed before the paths of the two were to cross again when they met in the Betfair Chase in November 2010 at Haydock. Again he was to come off second best, but the race was something of a renaissance for Howard-Johnson’s horse. He ran a cracker, finishing strongly and gaining on the Gold Cup holder all the way to the line.
Tidal Bay moved to Ditcheat at the age of 11, and after a period of adjustment, and no doubt a time of assessment from the champion trainer, the old spark started to return. At the end of April 2012 he carried top-weight to success in the Bet365 Gold Cup Chase at Sandown. It was an incredible victory which saw him saunter clear, hitting the line 15 lengths ahead.
Later that year he carried top-weight in the Hennessy Gold Cup, and again put in a stunning display when chasing home Bobs Worth. A trip to Ireland followed and a sensational victory in the Lexus Chase. How Ruby got him home in front that day only he knows, in fact he probably doesn’t. It will go down as one of the most thrilling finishes in the races history. Four horses hit the line within a length of each other, including another Flemensfirth gelding in Flemenstar.
Sadly a spell on the side-lines followed, but he was to return with yet another jaw-dropping performance, when at the age of 12 he carried top-weight in the Welsh National. Just for a moment after the last he looked likely to surpass even his Lexus achievement. In truth he probably did, though just losing out by under a length in third, the feat was monumental. He was to retire at the age of 13 after finishing seventh in the Scottish National. It was a truly remarkable career.
So what do these two great chasers have in common apart from their heroics on the track? Well of course as many already know, they are both offspring of the wonderful Jumps Sire Flemensfirth.
A beautiful bay bred in Kentucky, he was sired by the dual Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Alleged out of the Diesis mare. An expensive yearling, he was bought by Sheikh Mohammed and was trained on the flat by John Gosden. Group success in France and Italy included the Prix Lupin at Longchamp as a three-year-old. Just short of the very best, he was still an exceptionally talented middle-distance performer.
For many years one of Coolmore’s finest National Hunt stallions, he continues to produce terrific horses at the ripe old age of 23. Closing Ceremony was the recent winner of the Group 2 Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock. A strong staying performer he looks every inch a top-chaser for the future. He’s trained by Emma Lavelle, who after his win said: “I’m absolutely thrilled, he’s so brave and tough. His jumping won him it today, he’s very quick over hurdles and just kept on galloping. He’s qualified for the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham, but I’m not sure if that’s the right sort of race for him, because this season is just a stepping stone to going chasing.”
The Dan Skelton trained Three Musketeers is another Flemensfirth gelding with a bright future. Two from two over hurdles after his Group 2 success at Warwick in January, he is another that is likely to make into a wonderful chaser. “He’s got a big engine, we believed in him,” said Harry Skelton after his win. “He is such a big baby, we will look after him well and hopefully he will look after us.”
One that is already creating a stir over fences is the Ted Walsh trained Foxrock. Still only a seven-year-old, he was last seen chasing home Carlingford Lough in the Irish Hennessy. Another lovely big chaser, he has progressed dramatically over the winter and now looks set to be amongst Ireland’s best over the coming years.
Tidal Bay and Imperial Commander helped send Flemensfirth into the Premier League of jump racing Sires. The past was truly memorable, and the future promises more of the same.