IMPERIAL Commander will bid to make history in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup after his heroic performance on Festival Trials Day on Saturday.
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies and owners Our Friends In The North were thrilled with the way the 12-year-old acquitted himself under Paddy Brennan in his first race for nearly two years at Prestbury Park.
After leading for a long way, he was just caught by the race-fit Cape Tribulation in the Argento Chase, going down by half a length.
Given a clean bill of health by Twiston-Davies yesterday, the 2010 Gold Cup hero will now bid to become only the second horse, after Kauto Star in 2009, to regain his crown and the first 12-year-old to win since What A Myth in 1969.
The Gloucestershire trainer said: "He did brilliantly and we're absolutely delighted, I can't believe anyone would be disappointed with that.
"The only disappointment was getting beaten.
"Halfway up the run-in I thought he was going to win because he went away from the other horse but he just got tired, which he was entitled to considering he's not run for such a long time.
"He'll go straight to the Gold Cup now."
Ian Robinson, spokesman for owners Our Friends In The North, was pleased to see Imperial Commander had retained his competitive instinct after his lay-off through injury.
He paid tribute to the way Twiston-Davies and his team at Grange Hill Farm had got him fit enough to run so well on Saturday.
"At the end of the day he's not run for 680 days and he had a setback at the beginning of the season and to turn a horse out like that, it's fantastic," said Robinson.
"That is as fit as we could get him and no one could have done anymore.
"Win or lose, the main thing was seeing him and Paddy out on the course and he was such a happy horse.
"He loved every bit of it, he's had a great time.
"He came back blowing like a steam train, but nobody jumps that course like he does.
"He's jumped every fence and made some of those fences look like kitchen chairs – what more could we ask for?
"He hasn't quite got up the hill, but thousands of horses haven't got up that hill.
"He's given his best, he's 12 years old and he's not going to get any younger, but he was an absolute joy to watch.
"To be honest, I thought we might never see it again."
Twiston-Davies' other runner in the race Little Josh suffered a rare fall, but he was reported to be sound yesterday.
Cape Tribulation's trainer Malcolm Jefferson said he was virtually certain to go back to Prestbury Park for the Gold Cup on March 15.
He believes Denis O'Regan's mount could go well in what looks a wide-open race.
"I'm not saying he's going to win it but he might get placed in one, this year's especially," he said.
Among the horses to be pulled up were Wayward Prince, trained and owned by Hilary Parrott in Redmarley.
Parrott said her stable star hated the heavy ground on Saturday but he was none the worse for his efforts under Jack Doyle.