Bobs Worth was billed as the one horse in the Hennessy Gold Cup field capable of making up into a championship-level performer and his star quality shone through in the famous Newbury handicap.
It is Barry Geraghty, not trainer Nicky Henderson, who knows the gelding best as he bought him as a yearling and sold him on a couple of years later to enthusiastic syndicate The Not Afraid Partnership, a collection of Henderson's friends.
Already a dual Cheltenham Festival winner in the Albert Bartlett and last season in the RSA Chase, this three and a quarter-length defeat of top-weight Tidal Bay means Bobs Worth is now available at no bigger than 5/1 to take the Gold Cup next March.
Surprisingly, in a big field not short of jumping mistakes and fallers, very few ever featured prominently and Irish raider First Lieutenant, which had pushed Bobs Worth all the way home in the RSA, was still travelling well in the straight. Geraghty had taken more of a stealth policy on the 4/1 favourite and was not really spotted until the turn for home, prompting Bryan Cooper to conjure a phenomenal leap from First Lieutenant at the third-last.
It was not enough, and in spite of warnings at the start of the week from Henderson over the dangers of potentially soft ground, Bobs Worth drew relentlessly clear as Tidal Bay stole second from the weakening First Lieutenant.
"He was potentially the classiest horse in the race and if he's going to get to the top, he had to win here, but it's mighty nice to win, whatever it holds for the future," said Henderson. "He's so tough, but he makes you sweat as he doesn't do an awful lot. It was only three days ago when I went round evening stables that I thought he was right – it was like a rose coming into bloom."
Henderson recently mentioned the Lexus Chase at Christmas as an option for Bobs Worth and his main aim will be to keep the seven-year-old apart from stablemate Long Run.
Also at Newbury, Big Buck's continued to demolish all before him in taking his winning run to a staggering 18 with victory in the Sportingbet Long Distance Hurdle.
"He is very professional and that will put him right for the Grade One at Ascot in three weeks' time (Long Walk Hurdle). I think he looks better than he did at any stage last year. Ruby said he is now really professional, you can jump off and ride him any way you like," said Nicholls.
"The better the race, the better he is, that's the thing. Everyone will probably keep away until Cheltenham, but we'll keep ticking away with him winning these races. He's a real professional now."
Elsewhere, Countrywide Flame leapt into the Champion Hurdle picture with a most impressive victory in the StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
The sponsors slashed John Quinn's four-year-old to 8/1 from 25/1 after the Triumph Hurdle winner captured the scalp of Supreme Novices' scorer Cinders And Ashes in some style. The two Cheltenham victors had the race to themselves over the last two flights, and it was Countrywide Flame (11/4) which came out on top.
At home, Mount Benbulben got his fencing career back on track with a smooth success in the Nicky Connors-Lifetime In Racing Beginners Chase at Fairyhouse.
A Grade Two winner last season as a novice hurdler, the Gordon Elliott-trained seven-year-old was third on his chasing debut at Naas in October and fell at Punchestown last month. Davy Condon's mount made a bad mistake on this occasion too, at the second fence, but slowly recovered his momentum.
Despite a minor error at the last, he cruised home by five lengths from Mackeys Forge.
Owners Gigginstown House Stud and their retained jockey Davy Russell were on song on the day with a treble through Bright New Dawn, Midnight Game and Bog Warrior, all for different trainers.