NICKY Henderson pointed towards a return to the highest level for Top Notch after he opened his account for the season in the Listed 32Red Casino Chase at Kempton.
After suffering a bad reaction to a flu jab, the popular eight-year-old only made his seasonal return last month when finishing third in the JLT Hurdle at Ascot.
Switched back to fences the Simon Munir- and Isaac Soude-owned gelding took a decisive step forward from his comeback as he found plenty to take the prize by five lengths from the running-on Black Corton.
Henderson said of the 6/4 favourite: “He is very special. Simon and Isaac haven’t had the greatest run recently, but when you’ve got a horse like this you always know he will get you out of trouble.
“He was very sick before Christmas, only because he reacted to a flu vaccination. Ascot brought him on nicely, and there we go.
“Knowing how much pace there was here, two and a half miles around Kempton – I could easily see his little feet scampering along. They turned into the back straight, picked up the bridle and always had them covered off a right good pace.
“He hasn’t got the scope of other horses and he has his own way of doing it, but he is brave as well. He has been a wonderful servant.
“If you had a straw poll in the yard he would come out number one. Everyone loves him. I know there is Altior, Might Bite and Buveur D’Air, who might be better horses, but there is not a nicer horse in the place.”
RaceBets gave Top Notch a 9/1 from 20/1 quote for the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham in March.
Looking to future plans, Henderson said: “We were thinking Ascot Chase, then the Ryanair. That is the obvious road.”
Bryony Frost, rider of Black Corton, felt the Paul Nicholls-trained eight-year-old was firmly back on track after leaving his disappointing effort in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury behind.
She said: “I’m chuffed to bits. Like I said the other day, we were coming here as a confidence booster after the Ladbrokes Trophy and that is exactly what he has done.
“The trip pushed his gears the whole way, but what I loved to see was that he jumped under pressure. He travelled and stayed on all the way for me.”