Back On The Lash defended his Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase as Festival hero Delta Work had to settle for third at Cheltenham.
Delta Work was the villain of the piece at Prestbury Park in March when defeating Tiger Roll in the dual Grand National winner’s final outing, and Gordon Elliott’s veteran was sent off the 5-2 favourite for handicap action on this occasion.
However, the task of conceding weight to all but one of his 15 rivals took its toll and allowed Martin Keighley’s charge to taste success over the cross-country circuit for a second time.
Sean Bowen expertly navigated the unique course in the centre of the track to bring the 6-1 shot home three-quarters of a length in front of Deise Aba.
Coral went 16-1 for the nine-year-old to thrive again at the Festival in March, with Betfair 20-1.
Keighley said: “He loves it here, doesn’t he? If anything Sean got there too soon! It was a great ride.
“We were so gutted to lose the first two races around here this season, he ran a good solid race here at the November meeting (when third in the Jewson Handicap Chase) and we’ve just kept him for this race since.
“It’s worked out well and we’ll keep him nice and fresh now and come back for the Festival. It will be level weights there, but he seems to be improving for every run around here and hopefully he can still be in the mix.
“Delta Work ran a good race in third and we were getting just over a stone today, so he’s going to have to improve again in March. Today the ground was probably a bit too good for him so hopefully we’ll get faster ground and we’ll see how it goes.
“We love having winners here, all the locals love a local winner so it makes for a really good atmosphere. Harry (Redknapp, joint-owner) is down in London today opening something, so he’s gutted he can’t be here!”
Philip Hobbs, trainer of Deise Aba, said: “He has run great and jumped beautifully.
“Unfortunately at the second-last he was a bit slow and lost some momentum at it, but he has run really well. It maybe cost him first place, but I’m not totally sure that it did.
“We might come back here for the Festival, but that is off level weights and will be a different job.”
Gordon Elliott, meanwhile, saw plenty of positives in the effort of Delta Work.
He said: “I’m delighted with the run. He gave the winner and the second horse a lot of weight and we knew there would be plenty of improvement after today. He has only had one run over the banks around here so that is why we wanted to get more experience into him.
“I’m looking forward to coming back here off level weights. That will be his Gold Cup when he comes back here for the Festival. If you look there how he jumped the second-last and last you can see he just needed that bit more experience of the track so that will do him no harm. He galloped all the way to the line so we are very happy.”
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