Easysland denied dual Grand National hero Tiger Roll a fifth Cheltenham Festival success as he ran out an impressive winner of the Glenfarclas Chase over the cross-country course.
Tiger Roll was sent off the 8-11 favourite to win the race for a third successive season for Gordon Elliott and Keith Donoghue, but on this occasion he found a rival four years his junior too sprightly.
Bought by JP McManus after winning over the course in December, Easysland (3-1) had since won at home in France for trainer David Cottin.
Ridden by Jonathan Plouganou, he was never far from the pace – but did take the odd chance at a few fences, jumping low.
Tiger Roll was given every chance by Donoghue, but the 10-year-old could never quite reel in the long-time leader and once the result looked inevitable, he was allowed to coast home in his own time, with the front two well clear.
Easysland crossed the line 17 lengths to the good, with Out Sam, a stablemate of Tiger Roll, a further 18 lengths away in third.
Donoghue jumped off Tiger Roll on crossing the line, and after being given plenty of water he was perfectly fine, walking back to the stables having been unsaddled.
Another old favourite, Might Bite, travelled well for a long way before dropping away on the final circuit.
The win provided McManus with a third of the afternoon thanks to Champ and Dame De Compagnie.
Despite the reverse, there were many positives to take for Tiger Roll and his connections, on what was just his second tart of the season.
Elliott said: “We are happy, but once he is OK in the morning that is the most important thing.
“You’re always disappointed when you don’t win, but I said before the race the ground was a big worry. Keith said on that tacky ground he was never happy on him. On the better ground he was good.
“In fairness to the winning jockey he gave his horse a very good ride and took the sting out of us, we went a good gallop the whole way. Just the ground killed us, no excuse.
“If you go through his whole career he is a horse that needs good ground.
“When you’re watching a race you’re always hoping, but you could see going out on the last circuit across the heavy ground normally he’d be running way at that stage.
“But he’s come a long way – in January we were only back cantering, so we’re happy.
“Yes (all roads lead back to Aintree), if it is good ground. If it is soft or heavy he won’t be running and if it is good ground he will run.”
Donoghue said: “I’m very happy. The ground was very heavy and we knew that was going to be a worry, as he doesn’t have good form on heavy ground.
“That just took the toll on him in the last couple of furlongs and I couldn’t go with the winner, who was a very good winner on the day. He is a very good horse.
“He felt very good, just the ground got him beat.”
Of the winner, Cottin said: “I was expecting a good run from him, as he seemed really well. His coat had changed and he was in great form. It is a big advantage to come here in December and to know the track. He did well in December and he won then.
“The heavy ground was going to be in his favour. He is a horse that is extremely well balanced, that easily follows and can go in that ground easily.
“When you have a cross-country horse you have to train them when they are young over those jumps and we have been very patient with him – we have given him a lot of time to get him where he is now.”