Nube Negra inflicted an emphatic defeat on Altior in the Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton.
Nicky Henderson’s dual Champion Chase victor Altior, who was a late absentee from the Tingle Creek earlier in the season, ran in snatches throughout for Nico de Boinville, but ultimately had no answer to Dan Skelton’s impressive winner.
On the bridle throughout, Harry Skelton was at pains not to hit the front too soon on Nube Negra, who had not been seen since finishing second in the Kingmaker at Warwick in February.
Altior showed guts to keep in contention in the home straight and it briefly looked as if his famous turbo was going to kick in, but Nube Negra had plenty in reserve and was heavily eased, crossing the line three and a half lengths to the good.
The 20-1 winner was continuing a golden spell for the Skeltons, who have won Grade Ones with Allmankind and Shan Blue this season.
With Willie Mullins’ Chacun Pour Soi impressing at Leopardstown, he is now 11-8 favourite for the Queen Mother Champion Chase with Altior out to 12-1 with Betfair. Nube Negra is also a 12-1 chance.
Skelton said: “It’s quite unbelievable. It’s taken me by surprise – you don’t expect necessarily to beat Altior. Nube Negra is not a horse that has thrived on really soft ground, but he has matured to the point now where he can handle that. I think that is the most taking part of today’s performance.
“I was amazed how hard he came back on the bridle turning in. He has always been a strong traveller for a horse that has threatened to be so good.
“I was so disappointed he got beaten in last year’s Henry VIII, but he is putting it right now. As a 16.3 (hands high) horse, I think he has just taken time. I’m just delighted with everything really.
“The owner has been very patient. We’ve always taken our time with him. He had a bit of an injury setback in the spring, but he couldn’t run because of Covid. We were never going to Cheltenham, we were going to Aintree, but he never got that chance.
“It was probably the best thing that ever happened to him as it gave him the chance to mature.
“He will definitely go to Cheltenham this year – the Champion Chase is his next stop. He is a horse that is very good fresh and the Clarence House will come way too soon and I think for a horse that has to be fresh, the Newbury race is just too close to Cheltenham for him.”
De Boinville felt Altior’s class had helped him make the frame, but was at a loss to explain his defeat as the evens favourite.
He said: “We will definitely get him home and give him a full MOT and see what has gone on.
“You don’t know whether something is wrong or if it is an age thing. We will get him home and see how he is. The good news is he looks safe and sound at the moment.
“I was in trouble a long way from home, but it probably shows what class he has got that he kept going all the way to the line.
“Full credit to Dan and Harry Skelton for having their horse in great condition for this.