Clan Des Obeaux cemented his Cheltenham Gold Cup claims with a facile success in the Betfair Denman Chase at Ascot.
This recognised trial for the blue riband at Prestbury Park next month was swiftly re-scheduled following the abandonment of racing at Newbury last Saturday because of the outbreak of equine influenza.
With connections of last season’s Gold Cup hero Native River deciding against running at Ascot, Clan Des Obeaux’s task appeared significantly more straightforward than it would have been at Newbury a week ago – and he was priced up accordingly as the 2-5 favourite for Paul Nicholls.
Nicky Henderson’s grey Terrefort led the four-strong field for much of the three-mile journey under Nico de Boinville, with Clan Des Obeaux always in his wing mirrors in the hands of an ultra-confident Harry Cobden.
Terrefort stuck to his task gamely, but Clan Des Obeaux breezed alongside before taking over the running on the run to the final fence – and a huge leap sealed his victory.
The way he extended lengths clear on the run-in was particularly impressive, and Paddy Power reacted by cutting his price for the Magners Gold Cup on March 15 to 6-1 from 8-1.
Nicholls said: “I was a bit nervous running, because you don’t want anything to go wrong this close to Cheltenham.
“Every time he runs he learns a little bit. Last year he was a big baby and was looking about in front, but this year he has come together so much.
“That will have done him the world of good, and it is now about putting the finishing touches to him to get him to perfection for Cheltenham.
“He has jumped brilliantly, and the confidence is high with him – I can’t wait to go to Cheltenham with a massive chance.”
Nicholls added: “To be fair, he never got any credit for winning the King George. Before the race, it was best King George for years – with Gold Cup winners and everything else – and afterwards it was a bit of a fluke!
“Like a lot of horses, it has taken him a while to get to that mature stage – to become a proper racehorse – but he is there now.
“Kauto Star was seven when he won his first Gold Cup, and this horse is the same age, so we are very much where we want to be.
“I’m dead happy, and we can go to Cheltenham full of confidence.”