Silviniaco Conti proved himself a worthy heir to Kauto Star as he produced a spring-heeled display to win the Betfair Chase at Haydock.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls announced last month the legendary steeplechaser had run the last race of a breathtaking career that included five King Georges, a brace of Cheltenham Gold Cups and four wins in this Grade One event.
While it is fanciful to believe Silviniaco Conti can reach those heights, the six-year-old leapt to second-favouritism for the Gold Cup with most firms under a typically well-judged front-running ride from Ruby Walsh, to leave Nicholls beaming from ear to ear.
The runners were led down to the start by the 12-year-old Kauto Star and his faithful head lad Clifford Baker, receiving great applause from the Haydock crowd.
It was clear no-one was overly keen to make the running, so Walsh let his mount set what was a fairly sedate gallop for the first circuit.
The 7-4 chance injected a deal of pace into the race heading down the back straight for the second time, however, and some fast and accurate jumping kept him in charge.
Long Run, the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner who was left chasing Kauto Star’s shadow here 12 months ago, travelled with more zest on this occasion and was right on the leader’s tail turning in.
But Silviniaco Conti continued to pour it on in front and galloped all the way to the line after the final fence to beat the favourite by two and a half lengths. The Giant Bolster just held on to third spot from Weird Al.
Nicholls said: “He is a really decent horse. He’s only six, he jumps, he stays – he jumped brilliantly today. We had a chat before the race and I said if they go quick get a lead, if they don’t then bowl along. He jumps and gallops. There’s no better man to ride in front than Ruby.”
Nicholls revealed he may not even run again between now and next March.
“I said if he won today we’d go for the Gold Cup and that is the plan. You couldn’t leave him in his box on Gold Cup day after that performance,” he said.
“I’m not going to rush him and I might go straight to the Gold Cup with him. He definitely won’t run in the King George. He won’t run anywhere over Christmas. We could give him a run in something like the Aon but I certainly wouldn’t be worried about going straight there with him. He could be really interesting, come Cheltenham.
Walsh, who partnered Kauto Star to both of his Gold Cup victories, is hopeful this horse can give him the hat-trick. He said: “The Gold Cup looks the logical step. It’s the obvious target. He’s a good stayer, he’s not slow. I’d love to ride another Gold Cup winner.”