Banbridge kept on strongly to become the first Irish-trained winner of the Grade Two Coral Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton.
Joseph O’Brien’s eight-year-old was having his first outing for 275 days but got the better of defending champion Pic D’Orhy thanks to jumping the final fence better under JJ Slevin.
Pic D’Orhy, who coasted to a 16-length success in this contest 12 months ago, set the pace early on from Banbridge, with the other three runners in a line a few lengths back.
Notlongtillmay made a brief forward move on the turn for home, while Edwardstone and Janidil never quite got into the contest.
That left Banbridge and Pic D’Orhy to battle it out up the home straight and a late blunder by the latter proved decisive, with the 3-1 victor prevailing by a length and three-quarters.
Winning owner Ronnie Bartlett told Racing TV: “We were always looking for good ground for him and we got it today. He was maybe a wee bit rusty at times but we’re very happy – he put up a solid performance.
“He made a few mistakes but he’s been off the track for a long time, so it’s pretty exciting.
“He just seems to be very professional, he’s more mature, he’s got bigger and thicker and he’s just in a good way. He was very cool about travelling over here, he was relaxed and it was a good way to start the season.
“We’ve had him bubbling for a long time and there have been races we were going for but the ground wasn’t what we wanted, but Joseph said there is still some improvement to go and we’re happy with that.”
Banbridge was cut from 10-1 to 5-1 for the Ryanair Chase by Betfair, Coral and Paddy Power.
“We’ll wait and see what the ground is like, he’s a spring horse, so we’ll watch him accordingly, but all being well, that’s the race we’ll be going for,” added Bartlett.
Winning jockey Slevin told ITV Racing: “He was a very good horse last year, when he won a Grade One, but we felt he’d just straightened up a bit this year, so we hope he’s a better horse now.
“He was a little bit rusty on the way round, so he just had to blow away a few cobwebs, but we’re delighted with him.
“All four of his competitors had good form and came here with a good chance, so hopefully he’ll have learned a bit from that run and can still progress a bit.”
There was a sad postscript to the race, as Notlongtillmay suffered a fatal fall at the last fence.
Tearful trainer Laura Morgan said: “It’s absolutely horrendous, he didn’t deserve that. He just took a nasty fall at the last and broke his shoulder.
“He’s been our stable star and it’s so upsetting. It will leave a massive hole in the yard every day, he was such a character as well – and little Ernie, the pony that has come with him, he will miss him.”
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