Conti lands Betfair Chase for Nicholls & Walsh
Ruby Walsh & Paul Nicholls
(Healy Racing Photos)
The Charlie Hall Chase winner outjumped his market rivals throughout the three mile contest (registered as the Lancashire Chase), gaining a length at every fence.
Having made practically every yard of the running, his first semblance of an error came at the last but neither of his two closest rivals were fluent enough to capitalise and the winner had two and a half lengths in hand at the line.
Nicholls dominated this race with Kauto Star who won it on no fewer than four occasions and the recently retired star first won this prize as a six year old.
The chesnut son of Dom Alco is also just six years of age and in just his second season over fences and his handler was fulsome in his praise of the performance.
The Giant Bolster was always prominent and was still in there pitching at the last but could never quite get on terms while the 2011 Gold Cup winner Long Run never looked like falling but was nowhere near as fluent as Silviniaco Conti and could only plug on for second.
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.
"I'm not going to rush him and I might go straight to the Gold Cup with him. He wants to be fresh and I'm not going to run him through the winter in the mud.
"He could be really interesting, come Cheltenham. I thought he didn't get the credit he deserved at Wetherby (winning Charlie Hall).
"Long Run is a very good horse but for a six-year-old it was a good performance."
Walsh said: "The Gold Cup looks the logical step. You win the Charlie Hall, you win the Betfair, it's the obvious target for him.
"He's a good stayer, he's not slow. I'd love to ride another Gold Cup winner.
"We discussed it a few days ago and decided to come here. We were all of the same opinion not to go to Kempton on Boxing Day.
"We felt the King George would be more of a speed race this year with two-mile and two-and-a-half milers in there."
Nicholls added: "Kauto won this as a six-year-old and went on to win the Gold Cup in the same season, and this horse is very, very exciting. He jumps, he has speed and he stays very well.
"I said coming into today that if he won he would 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 definitely won't run in the King George, I don't think Kempton is his track.
"He won't run anywhere over Christmas, and he might even go straight to Cheltenham as he does go very well fresh. We could give him a run in something like the Aon but I certainly wouldn't be worried about going straight there with him."
Nicky Henderson, trainer of Long Run, was at Ascot, where he said: "I haven't spoken to Robert or Sam (Waley-Cohen, owner and rider), but the boys seem very happy. Ruby has given him a good lead and we didn't want to get into a battle today.
"He had a desperately hard race last year and he's finished off his race nicely today.
"Hopefully it's onwards and upwards and the King George is where we'll go."
Sky Bet slashed the winner's odds for chasing's blue riband contest to 6-1 from 14s for which Long Run is unchanged at 7-1 but they did push the second home out by half a point to 7-2 for the Kempton showpiece.
The 6/4 favourite Aupcharlie (sixth winning favourite of the day) made a successful debut over fences as he took the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase in convincing fashion to provide his trainer Willie Mullins with a treble on the card.