BARRY GERAGHTY produced a superb cavalier ride to guide Riverside Theatre to glory in a thrilling renewal of the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.
The 7-2 favourite looked to be struggling to keep up with the ferocious pace for much of the two-mile-five-furlong journey, with one or two sketchy leaps threatening to ruin his chance.
But Geraghty let his mount find his legs and he remained in contention running down the hill, with the front-running Albertas Run, seeking a hat-trick in this race, still leading the way.
The latter shook off the attentions of Rubi Light, but then had both Medermit and Riverside Theatre to contend with after the final fence.
All three remained in with a real shout facing the hill, but Geraghty and Riverside Theatre finished with a rattle to beat the defending champion by half a length.
Geraghty said: "It was hard work. I never travelled and he missed a good few (fences) but he's game.
"I threw him at the last four fences and he kept coming up. I was beaten everywhere."
It was a remarkable sixth winner for trainer Nicky Henderson, who said: "You'd have to say he wants a step up in trip now.
"It looked like they were taking him out of his comfort zone the whole way. He couldn't get into a rhythm and he was just having to fight his way round.
"I always thought this was his race, but actually I think I was wrong as it wasn't far enough for him.
"You'd have to say he'd be a horse for the King George next season, he's run well in it before."
Riverside Theatre is part-owned by actor Jimmy Nesbitt, who could hardly contain his enthusiasm in the winner's enclosure.
Nesbitt said: "That was an unbelievable race, I can't remember the last 10 minutes!
"I thought he was beaten at the last and so did Barry, but he just asked the horse for a bit more and god, he's brave.
"Forget the Oscar. That's it, I've done it all now."