Grand Sancy dug deep to fend off the late challenge of Sceau Royal and win the Betway Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton.
Sceau Royal was sent off the 11-10 favourite – despite the fact he was having his first run over hurdles since April 2017, having enjoyed a successful spell over fences in the interim.
He was last seen when well beaten by Altior in the Tingle Creek Chase, but hopes were high Alan King’s charge could regain the winning thread in this Grade Two heat.
However, Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle second Grand Sancy was still in front coming down to the last – and he responded to rider Harry Skelton’s every urging to win by three-quarters of length.
Skelton punched the air as Grand Sancy crossed the line, and he admitted it was a special success for his former boss Paul Nicholls.
He told Racing TV: “It means an awful lot to me. Obviously Paul set me and Dan (Skelton, brother and trainer) up, got us running, got us off our feet.
“It’s a big old wheel, he rang Dan up on Wednesday or Thursday and said ‘do you think Harry could come to Wincanton to ride a few?’. Of course my answer was yes.
“I was down there yesterday for the first time in six years. I rode out three lots, and rode out this morning.
“When you walk through those gates, it’s just different. The horses are flying, and I can’t thank Paul and his owners enough.
“He’s a tough horse. We had a game plan, and I was fairly confident of what he would tell me to do. It’s paid off and sometimes it doesn’t.”
Nicholls added: “Harry Skelton gave him a good ride and it was nice to give him some rides today with horses everywhere.
“He might go to the Supreme possibly. He is a good horse that is on the up and keeps on improving. He gets two and two and a half miles so he will go for one of those good races at Cheltenham.”