Lalor, ridden by Aidan Coleman for the first time, had led his rivals a merry dance for much of the race, showing all his old enthusiasm, but he looked in trouble running down to the last.
Dan Skelton’s Oldgrangewood, down the middle of the track, jumped to the lead while Saint Calvados was produced with a late run by Gavin Sheehan.
The famous Cheltenham hill looked like claiming another victim as Oldgrangewood’s stride began to shorten while Lalor, who was almost a length down at one stage, began to rally on the inside of Saint Calvados. The three flashed across the line together and it was Oldgrangewood (12-1) and Harry Skelton who eventually got the verdict after a lengthy wait.
Top weight and 3-1 favourite Kalashnikov came home eighth of 10 finishers with trainer Amy Murphy later reporting that he had broken a blood vessel.
The Skelton team had earlier lost a race in the stewards’ room when Protektorat was demoted to second in favour of Imperial Alcazar. “It has been a funny old hour, but that is jump racing,” said Harry Skelton. “He is a talented horse. Today I couldn’t believe it, he travelled around and jumped like a buck. The whole way round I thought I was too handy and got too good a run.
“You want plenty to aim at and Aidan [Coleman] kicked turning in and then I had something to go at.
“He jumped two out and took off. I thought when I raced on my own it would go against me in the finish. He probably saw the other horses and thankfully he has stuck his head out well.”
Meanwhile, Summerville Boy returned to the scene of his finest hour to win the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Since winning the 2018 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, not much has gone right for Tom George’s charge and he was sent off a 10-1 chance moving back to the smaller obstacles from fences.
However, under new forceful tactics, Summerville Boy showed all his old dash to stake his claim for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival in March.
He looked a sitting duck turning into the straight with Janika, William Henry and Roksana all seemingly travelling better, but Summerville Boy just kept on pulling out more for Jonathan Burke.
Only Roksana was challenging after the last, but Summerville Boy galloped on powerfully up the hill to win by two and a quarter lengths.