Elegant Escape warmed up for a tilt at the Ladbrokes Trophy with a winning return in the 188Bet Future Stars Intermediate Chase at Sandown.
Only four runners went to post for the three-mile prize – won 12 months ago by Gold Cup runner-up Might Bite – but it served up a high-quality finish, one which completed a quickfire double at the Esher track for trainer Colin Tizzard.
Sitting behind the early pace, the John Romans-owned 100-30 shot was patiently held on to by Tom O’Brien, before being sent on over the last and getting the better of long-time leader Thomas Patrick by half a length.
The winner was cut into 7-1 favouritism for the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury on December 1 by Coral.
Joe Tizzard, assistant to his father, said: “Tom (O’Brien) said he had not fully gone for him until after the last. It was a perfect first run. Even if he had been tight over the last and been second, it would have been a lovely first run.
“He was always getting there and going away, and there is nothing wrong with the second horse so it was a nice performance.”
He went on: “He is quite an ideal horse at home. I thought he looked a bit burly in the parade ring, but we were desperate to get a run in before the Ladbrokes Trophy. That has worked out perfectly, so we won’t have to do to much.
“If he is halfway good enough to run in the Gold Cup there is no doubt we will have a go at it, but it is all about the Ladbrokes Trophy and we have been talking about that for six months.
“He is not dissimilar in what he has achieved to what Native River had done at this stage, so let’s hope he progresses that way and becomes a Gold Cup horse.
“John is a big supporter and has got a lot of horses with us. He has been having a go for a long time, he deserves the big horses and has got them now.”
The big disappointment was the Nicky Henderson-trained 4-6 favourite Terrefort, who trailed home last of the quartet.
The five-year-old, who was pushed out to 12-1 for the Newbury showpiece by Coral, was reported to be sore behind.
Henderson said: “He was great for a circuit, but it was very noticeable that he was carrying his tail very awkwardly and I can’t believe there is isn’t something (wrong) in that department.
“He jumped the first circuit well, then it just went to pieces. Something is hurting him. I’m not going to say ‘no’ (to the Ladbrokes Trophy) – I doubt you can flick a switch and put it right, but you never know.”