Colin Tizzard's grip on the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup got even tighter as Cue Card gave a timely reminder of his talents with an authoritative victory in the Betfair Ascot Chase.
A lot has happened since Cue Card last won this race back in 2013, but he showed categorically he has lost none of his ability and will head to Prestbury Park with as good a chance as any in the blue riband.
He will be part of a formidable assault on the Gold Cup from the Tizzard stable, along with Thistlecrack and Native River, who are also high in the ante-post lists, and possibly Theatre Guide as well.
This two-mile five-furlong trip might be considered slightly short for Cue Card these days and there was no doubt the further they went the better he went, as he won by 15 lengths under regular partner Paddy Brennan.
Tizzard said: "It's nice to see his well-being. He is 11 and you wonder 'how many times can he keep doing this?' but he is back again. Today he jumped beautifully and he destroyed them. It was everything you want to see and more.
"In the ring he looked as well as ever and on form he needed to do that. He has been a brilliant horse for a long time. I spoke to Jean (Bishop, owner) and it is her ambition to win the Gold Cup."
Rebecca Curtis had no qualms about running Bigbadjohn in the Sodexo Reynoldstown Chase after he had been given a clean bill of health after a fibrillating heart had caused him problems in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster last month.
The eight-year-old showed he had made a complete recovery when nailing the gutsy long-time leader Flintham on the line in the Grade Two, but there was a sting in the tail for jockey Jonathan Moore.
The Irishman was hit with an 11-day ban for overuse of the whip. He is stood down from March 4-14.
Vieux Lion Rouge (8-1) strengthened his claims for the Randox Health Grand National thanks to his game victory in the Betfred Grand National Trial Handicap Chase at Haydock.
The eight-year-old has excellent credentials for the big one at Aintree in April. Seventh last season, he took the Becher Chase over the famous National fences in December.
He was produced in prime condition by trainer David Pipe for his prep race and outpointed Blaklion by three and a quarter lengths under Tom Scudamore.
Pipe said: "He's changed a lot, as he never used to find much at the end of his races. As a French horse he's quite a late maturer, running in the National last season made a man of him.
"He's going back to Aintree with experience over the fences and he proved today he doesn't need soft ground."
The Worlds End (11-4) is on his way to Cheltenham thanks to convincing win in the Albert Bartlett Prestige Novices' Hurdle.
Adrian Heskin pushed Tom George's charge out for a nine-length win over No Hassle Hoff.
"He's improved for stepping up in trip, like we thought he would - it helps his jumping," said George.
"He's really got the hang of it now and he warrants a run in the Albert Bartlett."
Leading Champion Hurdle contender Yanworth gave a workmanlike display as he completed a hat-trick this term with a narrow success in the Betway Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton.
The Alan King-trained seven-year-old only got on top on the run-in, as he got the better of Ch'Tibello by a length under Barry Geraghty, who said: "He battled well and he will need to battle at Cheltenham as well."
At Gowran, there was a surprise in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle when Jezki (2-5 favourite) was turned over by his old adversary Tombstone (9-4), having had Gordon Elliott's runner back in third when successful at Navan last month.
Bryan Cooper steered the latter home by four lengths to give him a big winner on his first day back from injury.
Cooper had to settle for second place in the other feature as Clarcam found the Ballycasey (4-7 favourite) too good as the Red Mills Chase went to the top team of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, who enjoyed a treble on the day.