The Conditional clung on grimly to emerge victorious in the Ultima Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.
A winner over the course and distance in October, David Bridgwater’s charge went on to fill the runner-up spot in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury before placing fourth when favourite for the Classic Chase at Warwick in January.
The eight-year-old was a 15-2 chance on his return to Prestbury Park and travelled strongly for much of the thee-mile-one-furlong journey in the hands of a confident-looking Brendan Powell.
There was a scare for The Conditional’s supporters at the second fence from the finish, but he winged the final obstacle and galloped all the way to the line to hold the persistent challenge of Kildisart by diminishing neck.
Discorama and Vinndication, the 11-2 joint-favourites, finished third and fourth respectively.
Bridgwater said: “I thought we had lost it at the second-last when he pecked, but that has probably done us a favour, as I said to Brendan don’t hit the front too soon – he gave him a fantastic ride.
“He is a good horse, but he is still only a baby. I was umming and ahhing whether to run in the RSA. If I’m being honest, I was half-hoping we were going to get balloted out of this, but we got in easy, so I thought stuff it and the betting never gets it wrong.
“I half-fancied him to run into a place in the RSA, not necessarily win it, which would have made him a certainty for today.”
He added: “It was a great day when he won here in October, but to come and do it here is just amazing. I’ve always been lucky here as a trainer and a jockey.
“When I bought him he was possibly a long-term Grand National horse and it burst our bubble at Warwick, but when we were tacking him up today he was in great nick.
“Brendan has had a blip for a couple of years as we all do as trainers and jockeys and it is very special to him. Possibly he might be a Grand National horse, but he is still only a baby.”
Imperial Aura justified strong market support to win the Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase for Kim Bailey and David Bass.
Second twice at Cheltenham already this season, he was sent off the 4-1 joint-favourite and stayed on powerfully up the hill.
For the second time in the afternoon Davy Russell turned into the straight with a double handful – this time on Galvin – but once more he had to settle for second best on the other market leader.
Imperial Aura relished the climb to the line, pulling three and a quarter lengths clear. Hold The Note was third.
Bailey – who 25 years ago landed the Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double with Alderbrook and Master Oats – said: “It’s a huge relief as the anticipation has been quite high. He’s owned by a big syndicate and it’s great for them – they’ve been very excited.
“Today has been the goal all season and it’s come off. We’ve felt all along this was his race.
“We had to run here last time, even though we knew he wasn’t 100 per cent right. We knew he was going to improve hugely ahead of today and he’s gone and done it.
“I hope he’ll go on to be a graded horse. He is only a baby still and he jumps very well.
“It was a bold decision to go over fences when he had a very good hurdle career ahead of him, but he’s a chaser not a hurdler.”
Jamie Codd saluted the crowd after claiming a third win in the National Hunt Chase aboard the Gordon Elliott-trained Ravenhill.
Previously successful in the race aboard Cause Of Causes (2015) and Le Breuil (2019), Codd rode a waiting race on this occasion before allowing his mount to join the pacesetting Lord Du Mesnil for the lead.
There was little to choose between the pair jumping the final obstacle, but 12-1 shot Ravenhill had that bit more in the locker and was well on top at the finish, scoring by a shade over two lengths.
Elliott said: “It’s brilliant – Jamie gave him a great ride. I was worried about him staying, so we said we’d hunt away. I’m very lucky to have Jamie riding for me – he’s a star.
“He travelled brilliantly and I’m absolutely thrilled to have a winner after hitting the crossbar a couple of times.
“He’ll go straight to the Irish Grand National now.”
Red-hot favourite Carefully Selected never threatened to land a telling blow and was booked for minor honours at best when parting company with Patrick Mullins at the final fence.