Jenny Pitman's 12-year-old finished third to Deep Sensation on his first outing since returning from the 1992 Gold Cup with leg injuries. Another victim from that race, Carvill's Hill, has also thrown away his crutches, though he may not reappear until this year's Gold Cup, on 17 March, while a further long-term sufferer, King's Curate, is due to make his reappearance in the Warwick National tomorrow.
King's Curate, who won the Stayers' Hurdle at the 1991 Cheltenham Festival but then broke blood vessels as he embarked on a novice chasing career, is trained, like Carvill's Hill, by Martin Pipe, and may be joined by another Pond House representative, Chatam, on Saturday.
All three are among a battery of 10 horses the champion trainer has put in for the Gold Cup, a race he has never won, and of the others the most surprising entry is the novice hurdler Lord Relic. Another trainer with multiple Gold Cup options is Jenny Pitman, who is 20-1 with Coral to win the race with either Ryde Again, who reappears over hurdles at Ascot tomorrow, Garrison Savannah, the 1991 victor, Royal Athlete or Toby Tobias.
The last-named is the stable's shortest-priced individual at 33-1 following his comeback, though the race was run at such a pedestrian pace that it revealed little about whether he retains his former zest. The gelding jumped adroitly throughout and led early in the straight before being passed by first Deep Sensation and then Elfast, to finish a length behind the winner.
This was enough, however, to excite those at Weathercock House. 'He ran a cracking race,' Mark Pitman, assistant trainer to his mother, said. 'He was a bit rusty early on, but he warmed to the task and at least he proved he still has an engine.' Toby Tobias will return to Wincanton for the Jim Ford Chase as his Gold Cup preparatory race.
Deep Sensation once again provoked spasms in his supporters as he appeared to be looking for the rostrum before the race was finished, and Declan Murphy was forced to drive out the chestnut for a half-length success.
Josh Gifford, the nine-year-old's trainer, concedes his horse is idiosyncratic, but does not believe him to be as unreliable as most other observers do. 'He idled in front but ran on again when they came back at him,' he said.
'He might not be 100 per cent genuine but he's not far off it. He's a bit like John Snow, the old England cricketer, in that he prefers things his own way. When the conditions were right Snow would be fighting to get the ball to bowl, but when they weren't he wasn't so interested and this horse is a bit like that.'
Deep Sensation's next run will be in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury, after which he will attempt to retain his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. The gelding, one of 16 entries for the two-mile chasing championship, is an 8-1 chance with William Hill for the Festival behind the 11-4 favourite, Sybillin.
QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE (Cheltenham, 16 March): William Hill: 11- 4 Sybillin, 5-1 Remittance Man & Travado, 11-2 Katabatic, 8-1 Deep Sensation, 10-1 Waterloo Boy, 12-1 Blazing Walker, My Young Man & Wonder Man.