Cape Tribulation (7/1) narrowly denied Imperial Commander a fairytale return to action in the Argento Chase at Cheltenham.
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For much of the final circuit in the three mile one and a half furlong Grade Two that the 2010 Gold Cup winner would triumph on his first start for 680 days but a slow jump at the last suggested that he was coming to the end of his tether.
Paddy Brennan picked him up and the 12 year old rallied gamely and appeared to have done enough only for Denis O'Regan to force Cape Tribulation's head in front on the line.
It was a triumphant return to Prestbury Park for the Rowland Meyrick winner who had landed the Pertemps Final here at the track last March for Malcolm Jefferson before folllowing up at Aintree the following month.
Little Josh departed early while Wayward Prince never appeared to be travelling and Quartz De Thaix made one error too many when departing on the second circuit.
Course specialist Midnight Chase was unable to get to the front and never looked happy while Hey Big Spender weakened quickly after a bad mistake on the second circuit.
Grands Crus had been held-up in rear and tried to creep into contention but his effort was short-lived and he was eventually pulled up.
Three runners had it between them with Imperial Commander jumping exuberantly in front, tracked throughout by Hunt Ball and Cape Tribulation.
Hunt Ball appeared to be travelling every bit as well as the other pair but his stamina was found wanting in the closing stages and he stopped almost to a walk having clambered over the last; eventually crossing the line 30 lengths adrift.
That left Cape Tribulation and Imperial Commander to fight out the rousing finish with the winning margin half a length.
O'Regan said: "He jumped well, he travelled great and he enjoyed the ground.
"He's a different horse this year and I'm delighted. I missed the second-last and I had to give him a chance to get rolling again. He loves Cheltenham and he tried his heart out. He's a very tough horse when it comes down to it."
Jefferson said: "Now I think we'll probably have to come back for the Gold Cup. I'm not saying he's going to win it but he might get placed in one, this year's especially.
"He's in the World Hurdle, but he is jumping so well now I think the Gold Cup is the race he'll go for. On his day he's a good horse. Denis was brilliant, but if a horse does everything right these are good jockeys and they know what to do.
"He might be better on better ground and if could get a place in the Gold Cup that might be better than running with a big weight in a handicap."
Nigel Twiston-Davies was full of praise for Imperial Commander.
He said: "You'd have to be delighted and if we'd been able to get him fit enough he probably would have won.
"It's been so difficult getting him back with his splint problems but we have kept him swimming and that made all the difference.
"He kept tanking and if he had settled better he would probably have had more of a finishing kick. There are six weeks to to the Gold Cup and that is plenty of time."
Sky Bet cut the winner from 100/1 to 25s for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup in March and the Leeds firm go the same price about the runner-up .
Hunt Ball could meet them there with trainer Keiran Burke confirming that he would target the Gold Cup.
He said: "We were going to go for the Racing Plus Chase, but I think we will give that a swerve and go straight to the Gold Cup. He'll get the trip on better ground."