Winning trainer Paul Nicholls
©Healy Racing Photos
Four-year-old Unioniste, who only secured a place in the final line-up when another horse was pulled out on Friday morning, took the £100,000 Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup at Cheltenham in emphatic style.
The 15/2 chance was relatively easy to back in the final minutes before the race, but always travelled powerfully under conditional jockey Harry Derham, the nephew of winning trainer Paul Nicholls.
Unioniste pulled clear alongside favourite Walkon on the run to the second-last fence, but once again recent Paddy Power Gold Cup runner-up Walkon had to settle for second place as the winner edged ahead from that point.
"He jumped fantastically, he handled the ground and turning in I was always hopeful that we were going to pick up and win," said Derham. "I was always conscious that he was just a four-year-old but he looked to have everything in his favour and so it proved."
However the victory celebrations for winning trainer Nicholls were understandably muted, with the trainer's other runner Cristal Bonus having sustained a fatal injury early in the race.