In a race billed as a heavyweight showdown and an ultimate decider between Paul Nicholls’ stablemates, it was local hero Imperial Commander who prevailed for Nigel Twiston-Davies in a race of towering high drama.
Kauto Star, the 8-11 favourite and winner of the Gold Cup in 2007 and 2009, was unlucky not to deposit Ruby Walsh with an uncharacteristic error at the eighth fence and he was never travelling thereafter.
Walsh was niggling away at the four-time King George VI Chase winner passing the stands and the pair then came to grief four fences from home with an earth-shattering fall.
Thankfully both horse and jockey were quickly on their feet as Imperial Commander squared up to 2008 winner Denman at the head of affairs.
Denman left his abject failure at Newbury last month well behind under Tony McCoy but the bruising combination were fighting for second place as Imperial Commander and Paddy Brennan went on at the second-last.
Any stamina doubts from onlookers were readily brushed aside as the 7-1 chance thundered up the hill for a sixth course success with his seven-length victory.
Although he has won the Grand National twice, Twiston-Davies craves the quiet life and admitted afterwards that “I am low player and like to be the small man”.
But the small man had already nearly upset the colossus of Kauto Star once this season as back in November Imperial Commander ran him to a nose at Haydock.
“You can never be confident of beating Kauto Star as he wins so well every year but both horses were only half-fit at Haydock and he proved himself that day that we are that class,” said Twiston-Davies.
“He is bred to stay and that is all he has ever done. He has always powered up the hill like it was flat and in another 10 yards at Haydock he would have beaten Kauto Star by miles.
“There was not a man in the world who didn’t think we had won that day.
“I am slowly filling my CV and only the Champion Hurdle is missing after Khyber Kim finished second on Tuesday.
“I wanted to win the Grand National more than anything and have two now so they are getting boring!
“We don’t like shouting our mouths off, but I couldn’t understand it as Denman had let his supporters down last time and Kauto cannot do it every year.
“Cooldine had 14lb to find and I couldn’t see how he could do it.
“I was the forgotten man and I hope you forget me again after today.”
Forgetting the jovial Naunton handler would seem unlikely with Imperial Commander due to now take in Betfair Bowl at Aintree in three weeks’ time.
Twiston-Davies added: “I would like to run him at Liverpool. I don’t imagine Denman or Kauto will run so it should be a penalty kick.”
Brennan breezed past the winning post with his finger pressed firmly to his lips, and explaining the expression, he said: “All we have heard of the last three months is Kauto Star and Denman. It is good for racing but it was never a two-horse race.
“It’s by far the best day of my life. I’m speechless. It was a dream the whole way.
“I saw Kauto’s mistake out of the corner of my eye. Paul Townend (on Cooldine) was next to me and he said Kauto was still there.
“I thought Kauto had to make just one mistake. There was a lot of rubbish talked about Kauto being half-fit at Haydock but we needed the race too.
“I had never had a feeling like it at Haydock with the speed he showed up the straight.
“Kauto is not a young horse and Imperial Commander is improving – he is a serious horse.
“I wanted to get the rail today and once I did I thought he was going pull up for two strides going into the final fence.
“But he sprinted away from the last and he will get four miles.
“The horse on the day was exceptional and I just played a small part.
“This is a serious horse and he will be around a long time.”
Twiston-Davies and Brennan have forged a successful partnership since the rider moved from Howard Johnson’s stable in 2007.
“I am not the easiest person to work with on a day-to-day basis. If I am not winning I am not happy,” Brennan explained.
“Nigel makes me happy every day. He makes me feel that I am the best and you cannot buy that.
“He is not only a boss but a friend and he will be hard to replace.
“I am very proud to sit here and be part of the Nigel Twiston-Davies team.”