They went to Haydock to see whether Colin Tizzard's pricey French import Alary would be on the lorry to Cheltenham with Thistlecrack, Cue Card and Native River but they ended up wondering whether Nigel Twiston-Davies's Bristol de Mai might be Gold standard and, finally, saluting The New One after he became the first horse to win a third Stanjames.com Champion Hurdle Trial.
Long Run is the only six-year-old to win a Timico Gold Cup since Mill House in 1963 so the statistics are against Twiston-Davies's grey chaser, but he was a short as 16/1 for jump racing's blue riband last night after coming home, on the bridle, 22 lengths clear of Otago Trail in the Peter Marsh Chase.
Tizzard has had a glorious run this season but there was more mud than glory about Alary's debut. A bit 'French' at some of his fences, he was struggling at the end of the back straight and pulled up three out. His rider, Aidan Coleman admitted: "I haven't got a clue what happened. He was going fine until we got halfway down the back for the second time."
He was not the only one unable to take the pace, however, as up front Bristol de Mai effortlessly piled on the pressure. It was only a handicap but Bristol de Mai won a Grade One over hurdles and another as a novice chaser last year and he clearly relished the step up to three miles.
"It's very exciting," said Twiston-Davies. "He was brilliant at the last as he was all the others. In the early days he was very buzzy but now he settles you can put him where you want in a race." He added: "He's in the Gold Cup and Ryanair. Whether we're the class of Thistlecrack we'll have to see, but he'll go up too much to run in a handicap now and I'd lean towards the Gold Cup. That was three miles - he looks like a stayer now."
The New One has never quite got the plaudits he deserved, particularly after scrambling home from inferior company in his first two Champion Trials. In terms of public perception, however, he turned a corner yesterday and was given a hero's welcome back to the winners' enclosure after showing huge amounts of courage to pull the race out of the fire.
The nine-year-old was struggling as Clyne set sail for home turning in, with L'Ami Serge travelling better as well. The New One flattened the third last and was not fluent at the last either but, digging deep, he ground it out to win by a length.
"Winning ugly" was how jockey Sam Twiston-Davies described it. But now no-one is banking on him to win the Champion Hurdle, they are taking him for what he is; an extremely good gutsy hurdler without quite being the best.
The trainer, pointing out he has never been beaten further than nine lengths in it, is still minded to go for a fourth Champion Hurdle, although the jockey would like to go for the Stayers' Hurdle. "I'm tempted to say that was a real stayer's performance," he said "but dad won't talk to me if I say that."