Nigel Twiston-Davies predicted a bright future for Count Meribel after he maintained his unbeaten record over fences in the Steel Plate And Sections Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.
The Naunton trainer took the two-and-a-half-mile contest back in 2007 with subsequent Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander, and has high hopes this year’s representative can climb through the ranks.
Kept close to the front throughout, Mark Grant did extremely well to keep the partnership intact following a blunder at the second-last and the 4-1 shot rallied up the hill to defeat long-time leader Le Breuil by a neck.
Favourite Mr Whipped was a further half-length adrift in third.
The winner was introduced at 20-1 for the RSA Chase at the Festival in March with Unibet and 25-1 for the JLT Novices’ Chase by Paddy Power.
Twiston-Davies, who had seen stablemate Jameson suffer an ill-fated fall in the opening race, said: “I hope he can get to the top. He will definitely stay three miles. He is a lovely horse, and with a bit clearer round he might have won more easily.
“I think he is a very nice horse and well done Mark Grant for hanging on. He is a super jumper.
“We are very lucky to have him. When Jim Old gave up training he brought the owner with him. I think we will probably move him up to three miles next time.
“He might even be back here at the next meeting. The plan is the RSA and that is the dream, although I’m sure a lot of very good horses will pop up.”