Galahad Quest stayed on stoutly to register a first win in the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Unraced on the level, he had the misfortune to come up against leading Triumph fancy Allmankind on his debut and was beaten out of sight, but he did take a big step forward when finishing second to a decent Flat recruit last time out.
There were five still in with a chance as they swung into the straight, but the fancied Rowland Ward’s chances ended as he was squeezed up against the rail before dropping away.
Favourite Monte Cristo had set a pretty sedate pace throughout and was still in front, but he was swamped at the last by David Pipe’s Night Edition and Galahad Quest (6-1).
It was Nick Williams’ charge, under Harry Cobden, who stayed on best of all though to win by a length.
Williams said: “I think it was a good performance. It was good form (that he had), but I bought him as a three-mile chase prospect, so I didn’t want to do too much with him this season.
“He ran so well at Taunton on a track that I thought wouldn’t suit, I thought he was going to go better here, so I had to give it a go.
“He has a proper jump pedigree, so he should be exciting in years to come. What I don’t want to do is give him a leg or anything like that as a four-year-old when I bought him as a Gold Cup prospect.
“I managed to injure Le Rocher. He won this race (in 2014) then a week before the Festival I gave him a leg, so I have been there before and injured horses.
“Maybe he doesn’t run again as a juvenile, who knows? This was obviously a good target worth going for and the race cut up a bit.
“We’ve got proper jumping ground and this is a proper jumping horse. It has not so much surprised me after the Taunton run – I thought he would improve.”
Simply The Betts (11-2) gave owner Andrew Brooks an emotional success after getting his career back on track over fences in the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase.
Having cut out much of the running in the extended two-mile-four-furlong prize, the Harry Whittington-trained seven-year-old, who is named in memory of Brooks’ former work colleague Chris Betts, battled back to beat Imperial Aura by a length and a half.
Brooks said: “That is going to mean all the world to the office and Chris’ parents. I worked with him for 15 or 16 years and he was one of my best friends. That was for him.
“It will be February two years ago (that he died). He loved horses and we always talked about them. He used to come in every Monday saying ‘can I have my money back as I’ve backed one of your horses’. This is really special.”
A return to the track at the Festival in March is likely to be on the cards for Simply The Betts, with Whittington considering a number of options.
He said: “We will keep options open with the RSA, Marsh and Close Brothers. We will just have to work out what’s in them, thrash it out and come to a logical solution.”
Cepage (8-1) gained his first Cheltenham success on his fifth visit to the course with a tenacious front-running victory in the Paddy Power 45 Sleeps To Cheltenham Trophy Handicap Chase.
Despite being pressed late on by both Spiritofthegames and Lalor, the eight-year-old fended off both challengers to win by half a length.
Winning trainer Venetia Williams said: “I’m absolutely thrilled as he deserved to win one of these. He has run so many good races he had worked his way up to be top weight in this.
“Charlie (Deutsch) said the ground was a little bit more testing than last time and that was a help as we always thought he was a stayer, which is why we wanted to make it a good pace and his jumping didn’t let him down.
“We’ve got options – he is in the Gold Cup and Ryanair, but Aso goes to the Ryanair. It will be tough in the big handicaps, but he will not go up a whole lot for that.”
There was a sad postscript to the race as Warthog, winner of last month’s Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at the track, suffered a fatal injury after jumping the first.
Martin Keighley celebrated his first winner at the course in more than two years as Back On The Lash (13-2) put his assured stamina to good use in the Steel Plate And Sections Handicap Hurdle.
Keighley said: “That was much needed and that is our 20th winner here. The drop back to two-miles-one has helped him as in that tiring ground, we knew he would stay well.
“He is very tough and always gives 100 per cent, but we have freshened him up and he often runs well after a break. I’m looking forward to going novice chasing next season.”