Defi Du Seuil came out on top in a thrilling four-horse race for the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham.
A previous five-times winner at the track, including twice at the Festival, the Philip Hobbs-trained Defi Du Seuil made his course form count against three smart rivals, to give Barry Geraghty a big-race victory following his return from a long-term injury.
Politologue made the running with Saint Calvados and Defi Du Seuil on his heels and Simply Ned content to sit in behind.
There was little change in the order until the second-last fence, and still not much to choose between the quartet.
But Defi Du Seuil soon looked to be Politologue’s biggest danger and, leading over the last, the 11-8 favourite powered up the hill to win by a length and a quarter.
Defi Du Seuil was cut to 15-8 from 5-2 for the Tingle Creek at Sandown next month, and Hobbs confirmed that would be the immediate target.
He said: “It was never going to be ideal when the pace is that slow, so I’m delighted he’s won. He obviously stays very well, but he has loads of pace.
“We’ll take it race by race, but I’d imagine he will go the Tingle Creek.
“Sandown is stiffer than here, so it will probably suit him.”
Geraghty said: “Defi Du Seuil was so brave at the second-last – deadly, deadly – and was good at the last as well. Good horses get you up in the morning.
“I didn’t have an option at the second-last, it was the stride I was on, so he needed to come for me and he was brave. I would say he got a little frightened in the process but he didn’t show at the last, when he was good and committed.
“He is brilliant, just a great attitude, and Philip does a brilliant job with him. For a horse who isn’t that big, he has a lot of scope and a lot of heart.”
Paul Nicholls will also aim for the Tingle Creek with Politologue.
He said: “He just got out-sprinted from the back of the last. It was a really good first run of the season and that will put him spot on for the Tingle Creek. He will meet the winner on 3lb-better terms and a stronger-run race will suit us.
“I’m thrilled with him – for a first run of the season you couldn’t be anything but. I was nervous out in front that we were going to set it up for those in behind and it became a bit of a sprint. It was a good solid first run of the season.
“We’ve left improvement to the Tingle Creek and that will be an interesting race, but it would be nice if something comes up and goes a gallop that we can get a lead off.
“There are some nice races to be won with him. The winner is a smart horse, but I don’t think there will be much (between them) at levels on a different day and a different track.”