Calva D’Auge dug deep to complete a Wincanton treble for champion trainer Paul Nicholls on Thursday.
The Be Wiser Novices’ Hurdle represented a significant drop in class for five-year-old, having finished fourth in the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown almost four weeks ago.
Ridden by Harry Cobden, Calva D’Auge was the 8-13 favourite to make the most of having his sights lowered.
It was a straight shootout between the market leader and the Nick Williams-trained Faire Part Sivola from early in the home straight – and while odds-on backers were made to sweat, Calva D’Auge displayed a willing attitude to win a thrilling battle by a head.
Nicholls said: “It was a bit of a drop in class and a good opportunity for him to get his head in front again.
“He’s a tough horse and a good, fun horse for his owners.
“I haven’t really thought about the (Cheltenham) Festival for him. There are plenty of nice races to be won without taking him there.”
The Ditcheat handler and Cobden got the afternoon off to a flyer by landing the opening Molson Coors EBF Mares’ ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle with 5-2 chance Cill Anna.
A narrow winner at Warwick on New Year’s Eve, the Stewart family-owned five-year-old raised her game to score by seven lengths.
The formidable combination also teamed up to land the featured Unique Financial Planning Handicap Chase, with 3-1 joint-favourite Worthy Farm seeing off The Kings Writ by two lengths.
Nicholls added: “Worthy Farm is an improving horse and did it nicely. He’ll probably come back here for a similar race in a fortnight’s time.
“Cill Anna is an improving mare. We’ll probably give Cheltenham a miss with her as the mares’ novice hurdle would be on the short side for her.
“We’ll find a nice race somewhere.”
Looking ahead to the next few days, Nicholls said: “We’ve got a few runners at Chepstow on Friday and we’ve got a good few going up to Musselburgh for the weekend, as well as runners at Sandown.
“One I’m particularly looking forward to running is Grand Sancy in the Scilly Isles at Sandown on Saturday. He’s in great form and I think the step up in trip will really suit him.”