Aux Ptits Soins (left) and Zabana jump the last in the Coral Cup
©Healy Racing Photos
Paul Nicholls and stable jockey Sam Twiston-Davies opened their account at this year's Cheltenham Festival as French import Aux Ptits Soins landed the Coral Cup.
The five-year-old lined up for this fiercely-competitive handicap as a fascinating contender, making his first start in Britain and his first appearance since winning at Auteuil last autumn.
After overcoming a significant mistake at the second flight, Twiston-Davies kept things fairly simple and was never too far off the pace.
The 9-1 shot looked like running out a comprehensive winner as he rounded the home turn still on the bridle, but front-running Irish raider Zabana would not go down without a fight.
Favourite Activial joined the party after the final hurdle, with Taglietelle also making late gains, but the Nicholls runner triumphed by a neck, with Zabana the same distance ahead of Activial in second.
Twiston-Davies said: "It was great. He travelled so easily and was probably not in a very happy position.
"I didn't want to go on three out but he was very honest. I'm delighted to get one on the board."
Nicholls said: "He's run a blinder. He shown us plenty at home but I was worried he was inexperienced.
"He's obviously very good but I thought he might be one for next year.
"To be fair to Nick Scholfield (jockey), he said he's the best horse he's ever sat on. I wasn't expecting any (winners) on Tuesday but it's nice to have a winner."
Zabana's trainer Andrew Lynch trainer said: "We've been thinking he had a bit of chance, but as we don't have that many horses, it's hard to know.
"I'm happy with his run. He'll have a bit of a break now and then go chasing next year."
Looking to future plans, Nicholls said: "He was so exuberant and he just kept on galloping.
"We have had him since October, but he had a little issue and we have just given him lots of time. That was only his third run over hurdles, but he has shown plenty at home. Sam gave him a peach of a ride.
"John Hales wanted to bring one here and he was the obvious one, once he gets his act together he will be very good.
"He was going to go to Fontwell for the National Spirit, but the ground was too heavy.
"He made a mistake at the second and I would have kicked myself if he had gone down, he then walked through the third-last but he jumped the last well. The Aintree Hurdle is on my mind now."