Bravemansgame produced a brilliant performance to get the better of Ahoy Senor in the Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton.
The duo had clashed over hurdles last season, with Ahoy Senor inflicting a shock defeat at Aintree as a 66-1 shot – but Bravemansgame comprehensively reversed that form over the bigger obstacles in what was a highly-anticipated clash.
Ahoy Senor was the 11-10 favourite for trainer Lucinda Russell and jockey Derek Fox, and the market leader was sharply away, setting out to make all in the three-mile Grade One contest.
In contrast, Harry Cobden was happy to adopt patient tactics on the 6-5 chance Bravemansgame, tracking the leader in second before really starting to line up his challenge with a handful of fences left to jump.
A slightly lacklustre leap at the third-last from Ahoy Senor cost him valuable momentum and Cobden was perfectly placed to seize the advantage, kicking for home on Bravemansgame who quickly changed gear to streak away.
Paul Nicholls’ charge was seven and a half lengths clear at the line, maintaining his perfect record of three wins from as many fencing starts.
The Ditcheat trainer hailed the performance of Bravemansgame – who he believes compares favourably with his former staying star Denman at this point of their careers.
He said: “He’s a mighty horse. He travelled and jumped and stayed on strong – he’s got it all.
“It’s the first time he’s won over three miles. I was worried the ground might be a bit on the slow side, but those good horses keep galloping.
“Last year he was half the horse he is now and he’s improving all the time physically. I’d like to think he will continue to improve as he gets stronger.
“I was laughed at when I compared him to Denman, but there is nothing between what he and Denman had done at this stage of their careers. Obviously Denman went on to be a proper Gold Cup horse and if this horse ends up achieving half of what Denman did, we’ll be delighted.
Bravemansgame was cut by some bookmakers for the Festival Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham in March – but Nicholls is far from set on a trip to Prestbury Park.
He added: “After he won at Newton Abbot someone asked me ‘what’s your target’ and I said ‘next year’s King George’ and that will be my target next year.
“I haven’t really got a plan. I always wanted to give him two runs and then come here and I’ll talk it through with the guys.
“I don’t want to give him too many hard races where he’s got an impossible task. I know some of the owners are very keen to go to Cheltenham, but to me, if we missed Cheltenham and won at Aintree and won next year’s King George, that would be doing the job properly.
“He’s a very special horse, obviously. (But) if you want them at their best when they’re nine years old you’ve just got to give them time to mature.”
Cobden added: “Derek (Fox, on Ahoy Senor) went a good gallop down to the first and probably stole 10 lengths on me, but I thought we went a nice, even gallop and my horse travelled and jumped really well and did everything right.
“He gave me an unbelievable feel. For one to pick up like that from the back of two out doesn’t happen very happen – he’s obviously very special.
“His jumping is 10 out of 10. There were a couple of occasions where I asked him to come up and he put down and was three times quicker than he would have been if he’d come up on the stride I asked him.
“It’s unbelievable to ride these sort of animals.”
Russell was far from disheartened in defeat and expects Ahoy Senor to progress again for the experience.
She said: “I’m delighted with him. He’s got a couple of little things he could brush up with his jumping, but he’s an immense horse and the winner is obviously an outstanding horse as well.
“It’s exciting to have a horse at this level – it’s just brilliant. I think he’s lost nothing in defeat.
“I don’t know where we’ll go next. We’ll speak to the owners and have a think.”