CAID Du Berlais denied Johns Spirit back-to-back Paddy Power Gold Cup wins in the last couple of strides at Cheltenham.
Jonjo O’Neill’s seven-year-old looked to have done everything right under Richie McLernon and went clear after jumping the last well.
However, Sam Twiston-Davies conjured a tremendous run out of the 10-1 winner to land the first major handicap of the season by a head.
“I’ve got a lot of apologising to do as I told Paul not to run him, but he travelled and jumped – we rode him very differently,” said Twiston-Davies.
“We just let him jump away, but it was impossible to get closer without expending too much energy by going wide. In fairness, he really picked up after the last. It’s only his fourth run over fences. It’s a brilliant training performance.”
Present View, the 5-1 favourite, was third and Oscar Whisky fourth.
In the testing conditions, the pace, set by Present View, was not strong.
There were plenty in with chances coming down the hill, but the market leader still appeared to be going as well as anything.
Everything changed after the second last, when Johns Spirit loomed up and took over approaching the final fence, looking set for the history books.
Caid Du Berlais (10-1) found another gear, though, to deny Johns Spirit a rare double.
Nicholls said: “I knew the horse was very well as he looked amazing, Sam has ridden him brilliantly.
“I put a tongue tie on as I thought soft ground has stopped him before.
“When they are well, things like this happen, I thought he had a chance at the last. I told Sam to follow Richie, see what happens, and that is what he did.
“It’s great for Sam, two big winners on a Saturday. He doesn’t panic and gets horses running for him.”
O’Neill said of the brave runner-up: “He ran a blinder and the weight beat him in the end.
“Richie gave him a great ride. He was a bit keen early, they didn’t go as fast as normal, but I’m proud of the horse and jockey.
“It’s hard to get nicked on the line, but that’s Cheltenham.
“He could be a championship horse now. It (Ryanair) could be (his race).”
Trainer Jamie Snowden said of Present View: “He ran brilliantly, it was just the ground. It just blunted his natural enthusiasm.”
At Lingfield, Jamie Spencer continued on an upbeat note as he counts down to retirement as he drove Intransigent to victory in the Unibet Golden Rose Stakes. French-trained filly Fresles (20-1) ran a fine race from the front under William Buick, looking at one stage like she might have quite a few of the field at it turning for home.
But Spencer had bided his time on the Andrew Balding-trained winner, who really picked up a furlong out.
Making ground rapidly from there, the 9-4 favourite got up to deny Buick’s mount by a neck, in the process qualifying for a spot on All-Weather Championship Finals Day on Good Friday.
Spencer had already taken the opener on Ralph Beckett’s Chemical Charge (2-7 favourite) in the Qatar Racing colours.