Neptune Collonges earned himself the right to at least another supporting role in the Gold Cup after the often-discounted grey returned to the winner's enclosure for the first time in nearly two years in the Argento Chase at Cheltenham.
Three times successful in Grade Ones in Ireland, Neptune Collonges ran with credit to place behind his better-known stable companions Denman and Kauto Star at the 2008 and 2009 Festivals and this reawakening display looks to have scotched any possibility of an alternative bid for the Grand National. After missing the whole of last season and with just two comeback runs behind him, Paul Nicholls' runner was expected to be overshadowed by Punchestowns but jockey Tony McCoy never allowed the 11/10 favourite a look-in.
As Neptune Collonges (11/2) became ever more confident, Punchestowns took a more cautious approach and began to weaken at the top of the hill.
Tidal Bay, which is not renowned for straightforward efforts, delivered another of his riddles as he emerged from an unpromising position to chase down the gap between himself and Neptune Collonges to a length and a quarter.
"I'm thrilled for the horse," said Nicholls. "He's got an entry for the National and an entry for a Gold Cup, but we'll see how he is and have a chat about the future."
Grands Crus, meanwhile, was a brilliant winner of the Rewards4Racing Cleeve Hurdle in the hands of Tom Scudamore.
The 2/1 favourite bolted up on his previous run in a Haydock handicap and was taking a marked step up in class but scored by an easy 10 lengths.
At home, meanwhile, Alaivan overcame sole rival Carlito Brigante to take the Corporate Hospitality At Fairyhouse Hurdle.
The 1/3 favourite did the chasing under Andrew McNamara as Carlito Brigante cut out much of the running. But the Edward O'Grady-trained winner was travelling much the better heading towards the final flight and quickly asserted afterwards to score comfortably.
"He is in the totesport Trophy at Newbury and he is in at Cheltenham, but he'll hardly do both," said O'Grady.
Sunday Indo Sport