Smad Place capitalises on Djakadam fall to win the Betbright Chase at Cheltenham
Hennessy hero Smad Place staked his Timico Gold Cup claims with a clear-cut victory in a dramatic renewal of the BetBright Trial Chase at Cheltenham which saw odds-on favourite Djakadam fall.
Twelve months ago, Smad Place had been beaten into second place by Many Clouds but the places were reversed this time as Alan King's trailblazing grey took the honours.
However, the turning point of the race came when Djakadam fell at the 10th fence as he was about to get into contention.
Both horse and his rider Ruby Walsh got up.
Smad Place had led to that point and pushed on, but his old adversary Many Clouds was soon on his heels.
There was nothing between them but after last season's Grand National winner Many Clouds had briefly led, Smad Place (9-2) went on again approaching the last.
Partnered by Richard Johnson, who was deputising for the injured Wayne Hutchinson, the nine-year-old put in a prodigious leap at the final fence as he galloped to a 12-length victory.
Theatre Guide ran on to claim third place, another 24 lengths away.
Johnson said: "I'm very fortunate to get the spare ride.
"He jumped and travelled really well. He handled the conditions and that's a positive.
King said: "He was in very, very good form today. I was desperate to run him."
King was quick to praise the role of super-sub Johnson.
The Barbury Castle handler said: "It's a shame for Wayne, but Dicky (Johnson) has given him a hell of a ride.
"It was a great exhibition of jumping.
"He keeps up a relentless gallop and he wouldn't have minded the ground.
"I was blown away in the Hennessy and slightly blown away again today - he does that to me, I'm thrilled.
Smad Place was slashed to around 14-1 from 33s for the Gold Cup.
King is no rush to decide whether Smad Place goes for the Gold Cup or the Ryanair Chase over a shorter trip.
He said: "I think the Gold Cup this year could be exceptional.
"I don't want to answer that now. I might change my mind.
"He's in the Ryanair, he's in the Gold Cup. He'll run in one of them and I'm not going to be committed today."
Trainer Oliver Sherwood said of runner-up Many Clouds: "No-one likes being second but I would have taken that at the start of the day.
"He jumped well, travelled well and came down the hill like a winner.
"I personally thought it was a good National trial. I think he's happier on slightly better ground.
"That (Kelso in five weeks' time) is the plan - the timing of the race is spot-on.
"He's run a cracking race."
Djakadam's owner owner Rich Ricci said: "He was jumping very well, but he didn't come up at that fence.
"It wasn't the ideal Gold Cup prep run.
"He's got a flesh wound, but he'll be all right and that's the important thing.
"Fair play to the winner. We've got to dip our cap and say, 'Well done'.
"I thought it was a great race and the first two pulled clear of the third."