FORMER Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Long Run makes the long trek from Lambourn to Kelso today in a bid to revive his flagging fortunes.
So far this season, Nicky Henderson's charge has looked a shadow of the horse that landed chasing's blue riband in 2011 – not to mention two King George victories – and the trainer is hoping to see some of the old sparkle return.
As he failed to win in the last calendar year, the nine-year-old escapes a penalty and has 17lb in hand of Kelso specialist Knockara Beau, the horse which lowered the colours of Big Buck's last time out.
Whether Long Run lines up in next month's Gold Cup is up in the air as he has the Grand National as his major aim this season, with owner Robert Waley-Cohen keen for a crack at Aintree.
"Long Run seems very well, so we go there looking to have a good run round," the owner's son and jockey Sam Waley-Cohen said. "Hopefully, we'll see him bounce back to somewhere near the form he showed at the end of last season.
"I think 11st 9lb is a competitive weight for him in the Grand National. If he can show the form he had last season then he's got a decent chance, but he clearly needs to show he's running at that level."
Knockara Beau reverts to fences having pulled off a huge 66/1 shock when beating Big Buck's in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham. Five of his 11 career wins have come at the track and his trainer George Charlton is full of optimism. "Long Run certainly makes it interesting and we're hoping the miracle can happen twice," he said.
"You can get funny results in small field races like this and they've all got 10st 12lb, which is nice as he just loves that low weight, he used to carry top weight normally." Completing the field are Nick Alexander's Isla Pearl Fisher and Jane Walton's Heez A Steel, but both have plenty to find on the book.
The other feature event is the Timeform Morebattle Hurdle, in which Nicky Richards' highly-rated Duke Of Navan faces a more realistic challenge than in the Fighting Fifth or Christmas Hurdles.
"He had a little break after Kempton and we are just bringing him back," said Richards of his charge which is bidding for successive wins in the contest. Keith Reveley's Special Catch has looked progressive this term and may give him most to do.