Dame De Compagnie justified strong market support in the Coral Cup to continue a golden start to the Cheltenham Festival for Barry Geraghty and Nicky Henderson.
With three Grade Ones already in the bag courtesy of Shishkin, Epatante and Champ, Henderson showed he is just as adept at getting one ready for a handicap.
The unexposed mare was sent off the 5-1 favourite on the back of an easy win in December, a race that later saw Henderson appeal the fact she was put up an extra 2lb due to collateral form. The panel found in his favour and she was allowed to run off her initial rating.
In the send she had two and a quarter lengths to spare over Gordon Elliott’s Black Tears, with Thosedaysaregone third and Cracking Smart fourth.
Henderson said: “There is a long way to go to go, but you are getting into the realms of, ‘I don’t believe it’ type of thing. You certainly couldn’t believe Champ.
“She is a lovely mare this and she is tough. It is always a very competitive race, but she was very good. There wasn’t that head-long Coral dash you normally get with a lot of horses flat to the boards, there were a lot of horses travelling and coming down the hill – anything could have won.
“To be fair we thought we had reasonable grounds to appeal and we did win it, but I’m not going to harp on about that as I don’t want that to be the headline news.
“The handicapper thought (her rise) was fair, we thought it was a bit unfair and it saved us a couple of pounds which was probably quite important.
“In that sort of field you have to have a bit of luck and you have to be in the right place at the right time to get the breaks. She was good enough and she had the gears as well.
“She is a lovely, big mare and she would jump a fence, but she is tough and I think that is the main thing, you have to be in races like that.”
In what was a red-letter day for McManus, Easysland downed Tiger Roll in the cross-country chase, before Aramax landed the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
Trained by Gordon Elliott, Aramax (15-2) was providing Mark Walsh with a first winner of the week.
He suddenly appeared on the scene travelling very powerfully running down to the second-last flight – but had to be tough at the finish, as David Pipe’s Night Edition was produced with a timely run by Tom Scudamore.
Elliott said: “I was very happy, Mark had a lovely bit of room the whole way and he jumped and did everything right. I was worried about the ground, but it is nice to win the race.
“This is a nice horse, that is going forward and the right way. We thought it was the right race to go for. He just does what he has to do, but we are very happy as he has won the race.”