Racing: Hot spring beckons for cosseted Quest

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The Independent Online
Rough Quest, runner-up in last year's Cheltenham Gold Cup and last week's King George VI Chase, will be asked to transport the sort of weight in the Grand National that would make an elephant groan. His trainer, Terry Casey, knows this and the gelding is in full preparation for the burden- carrying prospect. Every night he goes to bed swamped with rugs.

The monstrous Rough Quest might look like a beast who could rip a dragon's head off, but is in fact a dainty flower whose muscles do not feel nice when it gets cold. Since he is already a Grand National winner, Casey is happy to indulge his horse and covers him in matting and employs a heat lamp in his box to stop any chills getting on diddums' chest.

Rough Quest is a property worth looking after. When he captured the Grand National last year it was in a rare style for the race. He won it classily, vaulting with fluency and then employing the sort of sprint finish that only the finest athletes possess. It was with some relief then that Casey received his vehicle back from Kempton's King George VI Chase in one piece. The crusty Sunbury ground was most unacceptable for Rough Quest, who nevertheless picked up the sort of place prize-money that could buy a flat and did not pick up any acute physical damage in the process. "He was stiff for a couple of days but his legs were fine and that's the main thing," Casey said yesterday. "Immediately after the race I went down to the stable yard and took his boots off to feel his legs. There were no dodgy signs and the following day he trotted out sound."

Rough Quest may be recently 11 (quite a lot of horses celebrated a birthday yesterday) but it appears he is not ready for equine SAGA holidays. It may even be that the old boy has yet to reach his peak. "I enjoy riding him out and I'm the trainer, so I get my choice," Casey said. "And I can tell you that when I sat on him at the beginning of this season, at the start of serious work, he felt better than at any time last year."

Rough Quest was paradoxically close to his nadir when he ran in the Gold Cup. Casey reckons he was rather sickly, which is bewildering as the gelding had only Imperial Call in front of him at the line. "When he went to Cheltenham he was certainly not right," the trainer said. "I told everyone that beforehand and when I saddled him he didn't look at his best for me. He ran well enough but I think he can be a lot better than that. After the Gold Cup he did nothing but improve and he felt brilliant in the week before the National. Those two races come at a good time of the year for him when the weather is getting warmer and milder."

Rough Quest will hound any foe that comes across his path in the next five weeks when he first tackles One Man, the King George winner, in the Pillar Chase at Cheltenham, and then goes for the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown. The latter contest will also be a proving ground for Imperial Call if he successfully negotiates a race at the same course in 17 days' time. "He's grand and he's coming along very well," trainer Fergus Sutherland said of Imperial Call yesterday. "He just got a bit bruised like a fellow who has been in a rough game when he fell [at Punchestown on his seasonal debut]. You shouldn't worry about him because you'll see him again and the Hennessy will be the final preparation." Game on.