Northern raider Midnight Shadow continued his rise through the ranks with victory in the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Trained in West Yorkshire by Sue Smith, Midnight Shadow rounded off last season with victory in the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr.
He he disappointed in Cheltenham’s Greatwood Hurdle in November, but bounced back to open his account for the current campaign with a narrow success in an Aintree handicap hurdle in early December.
He faced a tougher task stepping up to Grade Two level at Prestbury Park, but travelled strongly throughout in the hands of Danny Cook and moved up ominously to chase last year’s winner Wholestone and the admirable Old Guard into the home straight.
Cook cut a confident figure in the saddle on the run to the final flight and 8-1 shot Midnight Shadow got over it well and stayed on powerfully up the hill to score by two and a quarter lengths.
Wholestone, the 6-4 favourite, narrowly beat Old Guard to the runner-up spot.
Smith said: “He is a very nice horse. He has obviously got a touch of class and jumps great and he has got a very big engine.
“He is on the improve and long may it last. Hopefully he will keep sound so we can keep going as he will be a fantastic chaser next season.
“We were all a bit disappointed with his run here last time. We couldn’t find a reason why as he was perfectly healthy at home and he seemed right. Maybe it was the big field or the fact the ground was a bit quicker, I honestly don’t know.
“He went and won really well at Aintree and we were hopeful coming here, but not confident as we didn’t know if he handled the track. We’ve learnt today he does.
“The owner is keen on the Champion Hurdle, but I don’t think we can go back in trip. It is a possibility we could go for the Stayers’ Hurdle with him, but it will all have to be discussed. The ground would have to be in sensible order, which is easier rather than too fast.
“I’m not 100 per cent sure if we would give him another run (before the Cheltenham Festival), we will just see how he comes out of this.”