There he was, the outstanding steeplechaser in Britain, loping easily up the great downland sweep towards a sagging drift of rain cloud. Mind you, the film crews, photographers and reporters who had gathered yesterday for a first sighting of Long Run since March could only take his trainer's word for it. For the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner – still only six years old, after all – has been so transformed by his summer at grass that Nicky Henderson himself had been momentarily taken aback when visiting his owner, Robert Waley-Cohen.
"I went to see him three weeks before he came back," Henderson said. "This horse came out, and I thought it must be something else. I barely recognised him. He has grown an inch and developed into a most fantastic-looking horse."
If Henderson might attest that into each life some rain must fall, it was sooner a matter of his obligations in promoting Long Run's comeback target, the Betfair Chase at Haydock on 19 November. The weather itself was entirely welcome, at Seven Barrows as at all jumping yards, after an unnervingly arid autumn.
"He's quite laid-back at the moment, and quite heavy," Henderson admitted. "I haven't revved him up yet. I know when the race is, and I really need to get him on the grass. The rest of them, too. They might all be slightly behind. This weekend will be the first real test on the track, the first time we'll be running horses that have been out for the summer. But if we're behind, we're behind. I can't push it."
Long Run will, meanwhile, be roused from his torpor this morning with a first schooling session of the term under Waley-Cohen's son, Sam, whose Corinthian partnership with the horse has proved one of the sport's most engaging storylines in recent years. "They'll go to [schooling specialist] Yogi Breisner's and it'll be useful for them both," Henderson said. "At the beginning of last season there were plenty of doubters. After seeing him win a King George and a Gold Cup, I think they've wilted a little. But we've got to keep working at the horse's technique, keep him into our style of jumping. He can still be quite 'froggy' at times."
One way or another, Long Run should certainly improve for the run, not least when you remember his defeat first time out last season, in a Cheltenham handicap, after which many felt he would never adjust the flat jumping shape learnt in his native France. "It might not have been the greatest choice of race to start him off," Henderson said. "But at least racing flat out over two miles five at Cheltenham taught him something about rushing round there. As soon as he got back over three miles, it was so much easier for him to get into his comfort zone."
Henderson had schooled "40 to 50" at daybreak, while the three dozen led by Long Run at third lot included a rejuvenated former champion hurdler in Binocular and an obvious Queen Mother Champion Chase contender in Finian's Rainbow. Nor can Henderson suppress his excitement about young horses such as Spirit Son, Sprinter Sacre and Oscar Whiskey. Little wonder if Paul Nicholls is looking to his laurels. "We have a good cross section," Henderson said. "The senior, top-end horses are not old horses, and the novices look good. But I don't think Paul or I or anyone will remotely want to think about trainers' championships until after Cheltenham. You need everything to go right."
With Barry Geraghty commuting from Ireland, Henderson admitted anxiety on behalf of all his riders about the new whip regulations. "It's been hard enough to service Saturdays, even as it was," he said. "I foresee so many suspensions it's going to become a nightmare."
Geraghty's compatriot, Ruby Walsh, for one intends to curtail his visits to these shores but surfaces at Wetherby today to ride Fistral Beach for Nicholls.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Parc De Launay (4.45 Newmarket) Looks ready to resume earlier promise after travelling powerfully in a good nursery last time, form that leaves him little to find even without the likely improvement.
Fine Threads (3.35 Newmarket) Sister to a good winner at this trip and has long promised to be suited by it herself, keeping on strongly when improving again in defeat at 10f last time; easing ground no hindrance.
One to watch
A Boy Named Suzi (James Eustace) seemed suited by the drop back to 12f at Doncaster last Saturday, delayed in traffic before finishing strongly and going down by just a head.
Where the money's going
Farraaj, trained by the outstanding rookie Roger Varian, is 9-1 from 12-1 for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf with William Hill.