The ovation given to the Nick Henderson-trained gelding left no doubt as to the feelings racing fans accord to a real star. Henderson, with tears in his eyes, was as moved by the warmth of the welcome as the performance of the horse.
Fifteen months ago Remittance Man, then champion two- mile chaser, damaged a tendon in the process of winning at Huntingdon. Since then Henderson has lived on a knife- edge with the injury, a road he travelled in the past with the frail legs of the triple Champion Hurdle-winner See You Then. A delighted Henderson said: 'I honestly expected him to get beaten today, but he has class, and there was no rustiness at all about his jumping.'
Remittance Man, a credit to his trainer and stable lad Ian Majors, stripped trim and well- muscled after his long absence, and in the race put in some exhibition leaps. But Richard Dunwoody, wanting to hone his competitive edge, kept him with the others as the four runners progressed at a fairly moderate pace on the stickyish going.
Deep Sensation and Remittance Man were together at the last and although the Josh Gifford chestnut can be enigmatic in a finish, this time he was simply outrun by a better horse.
Henderson added: 'I wasn't totally happy about running on the soft, but it was the last chance so we had to go. We now must keep our fingers crossed that he stays sound, but he finished well within himself.'
Remittance Man is now favourite in all bookmakers' lists to reclaim his title, lost in absentia to Deep Sensation last year, in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at next month's Cheltenham festival.
The day's richest contest, the Racing Post Handicap Chase, went to the northern raider Antonin after a pulsating finish with five horses in contention at the final fence.
One of them, Rough Quest, came down, leaving Antonin and John Burke to take the initiative from the race specialist Docklands Express. The remarkable 12-year-old, twice a winner and runner-up last year, had led over the second last, but in the end the young legs of Antonin, half his age, had too much strength.
The French challenger The Fellow, backed from 8-1 to 9-2 favourite, ran an excellent Gold Cup trial under top-weight, battling back after being squeezed on the final bend to take third place in a photo from Elfast. The performance earned Antonin, trained at Thirsk by Sue Bramall, a tilt at either the Ritz Club or Kim Muir Handicap Chases at Cheltenham.
Kim Bailey warned that Master Oats, easy winner of the Greenalls Gold Cup transferred from Haydock, will take his place in the Grand National field only if the going is soft. The eight-year-old turned the race into a procession on the second circuit, coming home 15 lengths clear of a staying-on Moorcroft Boy. The winner's Aintree odds were cut to 14-1 from 50-1 by Coral and to 12-1 from 33-1 by Hills.
There were doubles for Norman Williamson, on Master Oats and in the Pendil Novices' Chase on Monsieur Le Cure, and Dunwoody, who opened the day with victory on Balasani in the Rendlesham Hurdle, stalking Cab On Target and pouncing over the last flight.