Footpad and Ruby Walsh
©Healy Racing Photos
Footpad ran out a dominant winner of the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase at Cheltenham.
Unbeaten in three previous starts over fences, the Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old was the 5-6 favourite, ridden by Ruby Walsh.
His old rival Petit Mouchoir and the main British hope Saint Calvados set a scorching gallop, with Walsh happy to sit in third aboard Footpad.
The market leader made one serious error in the back straight, but steadily closed on Petit Mouchoir thereafter, with Saint Calvados ultimately fading tamely.
There was little to choose between the big two jumping the second fence from the finish, but it was clearFootpad had much more to give and he powered clear in the straight for a 14-length success.
Brain Power finished well to beat Petit Mouchoir to the runner-up spot.
Walsh said: "He was brilliant. I can't say I was confident when we landed at the back of the first down the back, but I was kicking myself I went too fast in the first and thought they can't keep going and would come back.
"I was kind of happy going the pace I was going - I didn't want them getting any further away from me, you can make it on this ground but you have to do it on your terms, not the horse's terms.
"I was probably in front too early, but I was worried about Davy (Russell on Petit Mouchoir) getting too much of a breather down the hill, so I wanted to keep the pressure on him a little bit.
"He jumped super, bar the first down the back. He was very long, I wanted to pop it and he wanted to come. I thought it was too early for that, but he was very good at the second-last, pinged the last and galloped all the way to the line.
"His performance was reflective of his home work, he was too free in last year's Champion Hurdle and I always thought I'd have finished third in that race had I got him to settle. It was a good performance.
"Thanks to connections for letting me back on him and it's great to be here.
"It's been a long old winter and this makes it worth it."
He added: "The way he stayed as a four-year-old would suggest he'd be able to go further (than two miles). He has brains, pace and stamina."
Mullins said: "Going past the stands the first time, the horse was off the bridle and looking at the big screens - when he made that bad mistake, I thought it was over.
"He was off the bridle the whole way down the back, but Ruby just sat and sat and knew the ones in front were going too fast.
"We know he stays. It's a surprise to us that he's able to win an Arkle. We had him down as our two-and-a-half-mile horse for this year, JLT or possibly RSA, but then when he came out and did what he did in his first two races we said we were in the wrong division and should go back for the Arkle, and he's done that now.
"I doubt I've had one improve so much from hurdles to fences. His jumping has just brought him up another gear.
"He could be a Gold Cup horse. Lots of Gold Cup horses have won the Arkle and this fellow is much more laid back than some. I think we will have a good chat with connections and see if they would like to go in that direction.
"He has plenty of stamina."
Brain Power's trainer Nicky Henderson said: "His jumping was great. Both Nico (de Boinville) and Ruby knew that was some pace up front and they weren't going to go with them.
"Those boys were right and they've sat and we've just grabbed second in the end. He's ran a great race. He is good, though."
Henry de Bromhead said of Petit Mouchoir: "Davy felt he possibly went too quick, but he was jumping and travelling so well he just let him roll.
"Unfortunately he then fell in a bit of a hole, but it was only his third run over fences after an interrupted season.
"All being well he'll be at Punchestown."