During this period of suspended animation in jumps racing, even a single canter by the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner represents a pretty major development. The one completed by Imperial Commander yesterday was his first since a successful reappearance at Haydock 12 days ago, in the course of which he sustained a gashed foreleg. And it emboldened his trainer to confirm him right back on target for a showdown with Kauto Star at Kempton on Boxing Day.
When the bandages were removed on Monday, Nigel Twiston-Davies was positive about the rate of healing but admitted he could not yet commit the horse to the William Hill King George VI Chase. After seeing him restored to exercise, however, the trainer was happy to give the all-clear. "It has been causing us anxiety," he admitted. "But we're really happy and think we're going to get to Kempton now. We have plenty of time – the horse was as fit as a flea before this happened."
Twiston-Davies is next hoping that his son, Sam, will today win an appeal against a careless riding suspension picked up at Kempton last week. As things stand, he will not be eligible to ride Little Josh when that horse returns to the scene of their recent, shared breakthrough, at Cheltenham on Saturday week.
In the meantime, the Turf stands hard as iron. Even the emergency all-weather fixture at Lingfield today is not certain to survive, with heavy snow yesterday warranting an inspection at 6am. Meetings as distant as next Wednesday are already in doubt – the hilltop track at Hexham is under two feet of snow.
But there is a glimmer of hope for a thaw in some parts this weekend. With snow on the track at Sandown, it may come too late to save tomorrow's card, but rather milder temperatures are being predicted for Saturday. The clerk of the course yesterday reported that the frost had come out of the ground, but remained concerned by a forecast of more snow overnight. The loss of tomorrow's fixture would be a blow to connections of Punchestowns, one of the leading novice chasers of last season, who have targeted what looks an ideal comeback race on the card.
Mr Greeley, one of the leading sires in the United States, has been put down after suffering laminitis complications. His progeny had made an increasing impact in Europe through the likes of Reel Buddy and Finsceal Beo.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Franco Is My Name (3.05 Lingfield) Ran up a sequence of four last winter, from a base of 60, and cosy Kempton success last month off 78 suggests he is ready to resume the upward curve.
The Wonga Coup (7.0 Wolverhampton) Transformed by a summer off, relishing this 12f trip under an inexperienced rider before failing by just a head dropped to 10f last time.
One to watch
Prince De Beauchene (Howard Johnson) Looked a chaser to follow at Haydock in the spring and has shaped with promise on both starts since his return, latterly when going well for a long way when fifth at Newbury last Saturday.
Where the money's going
Long Run is 6-1 from 7-1 with the sponsors for the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.