Silviniaco Conti cut down the trailblazing Cue Card to win the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton.
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The eventual runner threatened to run and jump his rivals ragged, just as he had done in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, and only the eventual winner was close enough to challenge turning for home.
Soaring over the second last it still seemed as though Cue Card (10/3 jf) had his measure but the petrol tank began to read empty between the last two, and Noel Fehily galvanised Silviniaco Conti.
The 7/2 chance was in front approaching the final fence and powered to the line to score by three-and-a-half lengths. It was 11 lengths back to Al Ferof (5/1) in third.
Fehily said: "I was slow over three out and I thought Joe (Tizzard) had got away from me, but this horse is as tough as nails and he's a very good horse.
"This is a different track (to Haydock) and I knew my horse would be fitter today. Paul (Nicholls) has done a great job - he told me all week he'd improved from Haydock (when third to Cue Card in the Betfair Chase) and he has. It was brilliant.
"I've not ridden a Gold Cup winner, but I hope he's a Gold Cup horse. This is unbelievable."
Nicholls said: "That's brilliant. I knew if I had him at his best at Haydock he wouldn't win today. Sometimes you win these races with a horse like him, that if you'd have got to the bottom of him at Haydock he wouldn't have won today.
"It was heavy that day, the run brought him on enormously and I knew he'd stay. I said to Noel to make plenty of use of him.
"Kempton is not an ideal track for him a he jumps a bit out to the left, but he stays forever. All he does is stay, as you saw today. Better ground and a bit further will suit him well.
"Today was his target - last year the targets were the Charlie Hall and the Betfair. This year was a bit different, to come here and then go for the Gold Cup.
"You have to be a true stayer to win round here and though Cue Card won round Haydock it was different ground. He had a soft lead and I didn't want that to happen today.
"It's great to win this race with something different (previous wins were five with Kauto Star and two with See More Business). I thought we had a great chance in last season's Gold Cup, but it didn't happen "
The winner's stablemate Al Ferof was well beaten in third and Nicholls said of him: "I was worried about soft ground for him. He might be more a Ryanair horse than a Gold Cup horse this year, but I'll talk to John Hales (owner)."
Cue Card's trainer Colin Tizzard said: "I thought he ran fantastically well, the third horse was 10 or 11 lengths back. It looked going to the second-last that we were going to come away with it, but we got outstayed in the end. We had him beat, I thought. Then the next thing you knew he's passed us.
"He hassled us all day today, then we went clear but got outstayed. The winner was the best horse on the day, it was a fantastic performance.
"If you wanted an easy life you probably might (rule the Gold Cup out), but there's no reason to believe that on good ground round Cheltenham that he couldn't beat him (Silviniaco Conti) again."
"If you wanted an easy life you probably might (rule the Gold Cup out), but there's no reason to believe that on good ground round Cheltenham that he couldn't beat him again."
Joe Tizzard said: "Coming to the last, he's just emptied on me a little bit. I'm chuffed to bits with him to be honest. He's run right up to his Haydock run.
"Better ground would probably suit him better, but I'm making no excuses. I got into a lovely rhythm and fair play to Noel, he knew what he was doing. He sat on my girths.
"Every time I had a chance to fill up he was back there. No excuses, he's run his heart out. Silviniaco Conti was the best horse on the day."
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Sky Bet reacted by cutting the winner to 7/2 (from 9/1) for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Spokesman Michael Shinners said: "Who knows what would have happened in last year's Gold Cup had Silviniaco Conti not fallen three out. He travelled strongly at Haydock on his reappearance before blowing up and came back today to show he's one to be reckoned with in the top flight staying chases."
Cue Card is 5/2 from 9/2 for the Ryanair Chase, which he won last year, with the same firm.