Ruby Walsh hailed Silviniaco Conti as a “gem” as he cemented his position as a leading contender for Gold Cup honours with a straightforward success in the Denman Chase at Newbury.
Rapidly progressive this season and arriving in Berkshire on the back of victory in the Charlie Hall Chase and a defeat of Long Run at Haydock last time out, the seven-year-old jumped three out in unison with The Giant Bolster and long-timer leader Mail De Bievre.
The latter had made a bold bid from the front on his British debut but gave way going to the second-last as Silviniaco Conti and Walsh just shaded The Giant Bolster.
The Paul Nicholls-trained 8-11 favourite asserted going to the final fence and was quickly away from it, staying on well to see off last year’s Gold Cup runner-up, to whom he was giving 4lb, by seven lengths.
Nicholls said: “I said he wouldn’t be fully wound up today, you wouldn’t expect him to be. It was just what we wanted. He galloped well and stayed on strongly.
“It’s on to Cheltenham now. He’s done everything right. He’s won a Betfair, he’s won a Charlie Hall and he’s won this now. He’s a young improving horse. Let him do the talking.”
Walsh said: “Through the race he travelled well and jumped well. He quickened up well and joined Paddy [Brennan on Mail De Bievre].
“He did well for a horse short of full fitness on quite testing ground. Paul has not got him fully wound up. He has one race in mind. If he improves as much from the Charlie Hall as he did to the Betfair Chase he will run a big race in the Gold Cup.”
Meanwhile, in Ireland Sir Des Champs finally got the better of Flemenstar to claim Grade One glory in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old outstayed Peter Casey’s stable star, who seemingly failed to last out the three miles.
The winner’s stablemate Quel Esprit, successful 12 months ago, set the pace in a four-horse affair but the race developed into a duel between the big two over the last two fences.
Andrew Lynch hung on to Flemenstar until after the last but he could not quicken to go past Sir Des Champs (11-8), who prevailed by a length and three-quarters.