Imperial Commander, the Gold Cup favourite, lifted the spirits of Paddy Brennan on a grey day at Kempton as he showed more sparkle in the build-up to the defence of his title with a workout before racing.
Brennan, who had made his disappointment clear after partnering the horse in a less-impressive workout at Warwick 12 days earlier, declared himself far more satisfied after a spin around the circuit with stable-mate Sybarite.
"He was a different horse, I swear," Brennan said. "I knew from the start at Warwick that he was sort of backward and lazy, whereas today he was a million dollars. I couldn't be happier."
Racecourse rumour, rarely the most reliable barometer, has suggested for some time that Imperial Commander has endured a troubled return to fitness since picking up an infection to a cut in his near foreleg which ruled him out of the King George VI Chase.
His trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, insisted again, however, that the horse could have taken part in the re-scheduled contest last month, had the race been reopened, and that he was genuinely pleased with the horse's progress. "Whispering campaigns go on about all of them," he said.
"You've just ignore it. Of course there is extra pressure because he is going back as last year's winner but I'm happy where we are. We're at just the same stage with him where we were at this time this year."
Philip Hobbs was looking further ahead than Cheltenham with Quinz after the 8/1 chance outbattled the 50/1 outsider Mount Oscar to lift the day's feature event, the Racing Post Chase. The winner was ridden by Richard Johnson while Brennan's mount, Nacarat, faded into third.
Set to carry only 10st 8lb in the Grand National, the seven-year-old Quinz will, by the trainer's own admission, probably never have a better chance of winning the Aintree race as he is sure to face a significant hike in the weights given the authoritative manner of this victory, even if the winning margin was just a length and a quarter.
Rhyme 'N' Reason and Rough Quest took this race en route to Aintree glory, but Hobbs had mixed feelings about Quinz doing the same. No novice has won the National since Mr What in 1958, although they were blocked from taking part for a large chunk of the interim period.
Sunday Indo Sport