Jumping returns to its spiritual home at the natural amphitheatre in the Cotswolds today, for the latest instalment in the all-consuming soap opera whose denouement comes at the Cheltenham Festival next March, but the man-made arena quarried out at Huntingdon provided a theatre of dreams for a day when one of Nicky Henderson's old stagers revived past glories in the Grade Two Peterborough Chase.
Riverside Theatre, runner-up to Long Run in the King George VI Chase three seasons ago and three times a Grade One winner since, most recently in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham in March last year, had seemed a light of other days in the intervening season, labouring to heavy defeat in the King George and then at the spring festivals.
But a wind operation and the chance to race on the sound surface he favours were enough to revive a chaser still only nine years old to produce a dour performance under Barry Geraghty wearing down Champion Court for a half-length victory.
"Down the back it didn't look great, but Barry said at the second-last he knew he would win," Henderson said. "It hasn't been easy, we had his breathing done, then he cut himself and that put him back. We've been trying everything under the sun with him – new rug, new girth, new everything!"
The trainer, looking ahead to the King George in 13 days' time, added: "Two and a half around here is too sharp for him now, he wants three miles. I don't know about the King George, he's in there, and I'm not going to say we wouldn't, but we'll see."
Champion Court and Captain Chris, a neck behind in third, are also in the King George. The latter, second at Kempton last year, emerged with credit conceding weight all round, but this season's race comes soon enough after this hard-fought contest.
Another of Henderson's old warriors, Burton Port, second in an RSA Chase and Hennessy Gold Cup and fourth in the 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup, is also still only nine, despite a career curtailed by injury. Now with Jonjo O'Neill after 16 months off, he carries top weight in the Grade Three handicap chase at Cheltenham. But he has shown little sparkle in two runs for his new yard and must give 3lb to a rival who was third in the Hennessy as recently as 13 days ago, Theatre Guide.
Colin Tizzard's six-year-old remains fairly treated off just 2lb higher, but his only previous run at Cheltenham, when he was pulled up, sounds a note of caution. Aimigayle (2.10 Cheltenham), lightly raced in recent seasons, has given a fair account over hurdles this autumn but is a better chaser and was fourth in the Topham Trophy off 5lb higher on her most recent start over fences just five runs ago. She has good course form and will enjoy the sound surface.
In the novice chase, Oscar Whisky will have to jump a good deal better than at the last meeting to contain Wonderful Charm (12.30 Cheltenham).Reuse content