RUBY Walsh hailed Silviniaco Conti as a "gem" as he cemented his position as a leading contender for Gold Cup honours with a straightforward success in the Denman Chase at Newbury.
Rapidly progressive this season and arriving in Berkshire on the back of victory in the Charlie Hall Chase and a defeat of Long Run at Haydock last time out, the seven-year-old jumped three out in unison with The Giant Bolster and long-timer leader Mail De Bievre.
The latter had made a bold bid from the front on his British debut but gave way going to the second-last as Silviniaco Conti and Walsh just shaded The Giant Bolster.
The Paul Nicholls-trained 8-11 favourite asserted going to the final fence and was quickly away from it, staying on well to see off last year's Gold Cup runner-up, to whom he was giving 4lb, by seven lengths.
Nicholls said: "I said he wouldn't be fully wound up today, you wouldn't expect him to be. It was just what we wanted. He galloped well and stayed on strongly.
"It's on to Cheltenham now.
"He's done everything right. He's won a Betfair, he's won a Charlie Hall and he's won this now.
"He's a young improving horse. Let him do the talking."
Walsh said: "Through the race he travelled well and jumped well. He quickened up well and joined Paddy (Brennan on Mail De Bievre).
"He did well for a horse short of full fitness on quite testing ground. Paul has not got him fully wound up. He has one race in mind.
"If he improves as much from the Charlie Hall as he did to the Betfair Chase he will run a big race in the Gold Cup.
"He's a gem. He's got plenty of scope. There's lots to like about him."
However, David Bridgwater, trainer of The Giant Bolster, is relishing another crack at the winner in the Gold Cup, in which he was second 12 months ago to Synchronised.
He said: "I'm chuffed to bits. Cheltenham is a different track and this is the one they want to be worried about. I can guarantee I have missed more work than the other horse."
Tom George, trainer of Mail De Bievre, who was just touched off for fourth by Junior, said: "I'm very happy with him. He's very exuberant and Paddy (Brennan) said with hindsight we should have run him over two miles.
"He's in the Ryanair, it's something to think about but the main thing is we have got him back in one piece."