Commander just denied by Cape in Argento
Cape Tribulation seen here winning at Cheltenham in March
(Healy Racing Photos)
For much of the final circuit in the three mile one and a half furlong Grade Two that the 2010 Gold Cup winner would triumph on his first start for 680 days but a slow jump at the last suggested that he was coming to the end of his tether.
Paddy Brennan picked him up and the 12 year old rallied gamely and appeared to have done enough only for Denis O'Regan to force Cape Tribulation's head in front on the line.
It was a triumphant return to Prestbury Park for the Rowland Meyrick winner who had landed the Pertemps Final here at the track last March for Malcolm Jefferson before folllowing up at Aintree the following month.
Little Josh departed early while Wayward Prince never appeared to be travelling and Quartz De Thaix made one error too many when departing on the second circuit.
Course specialist Midnight Chase was unable to get to the front and never looked happy while Hey Big Spender weakened quickly after a bad mistake on the second circuit.
Grands Crus had been held-up in rear and tried to creep into contention but his effort was short-lived and he was eventually pulled up.
Three runners had it between them with the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained jumping exuberantly in front, tracked throughout by Hunt Ball and Cape Tribulation.
Hunt Ball appeared to be travelling every bit as well as the other pair but his stamina was found wanting in the closing stages and he stopped almost to a walk having clambered over the last; eventually crossing the line 30 lengths adrift.
That left Cape Tribulation and Imperial Commander to fight out the rousing finish with the winning margin half a length.
O'Regan said: "He jumped well, he travelled great and he enjoyed the ground.
"He's a different horse this year and I'm delighted. I missed the second-last and I had to give him a chance to get rolling again. He loves Cheltenham and he tried his heart out. He's a very tough horse when it comes down to it."
Sky Bet cut the winner from 100/1 to 25s and the Leeds firm go the same price about the runner-up for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
Texas Jack showed his appreciation for dropping back in grade and trip when coming out on top after an exciting conclusion to the Grade 2 Boylesports.com – Bet On Your Mobile Novice Chase with Paul Carberry up at Leopardstown.