Protektorat burst into the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture with a dominant display in the Unibet Many Clouds Chase, providing Bridget Andrews with the most notable victory of her career into the bargain.
With partner and stable jockey Harry Skelton in action at Sandown, Andrews came in for the mount on the Paddy Power Gold Cup runner-up.
For owner John Hales, who for so long has coveted the Gold Cup and has come close on several occasions with One Man and Neptune Collonges, he appears to have another viable contender for racing’s blue riband.
Beating a soon-to-be 12-year-old Native River perhaps still leaves him with plenty to find – despite the 25-length winning margin – against the top Irish horses such as A Plus Tard, Minella Indo and Al Boum Photo, but he could do no more than win as he liked.
With Imperial Aura pulled up on the first circuit and dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll calling it a day not long after, as well as The Two Amigos falling, Protektorat really only had Native River to beat from a long way out.
But having raced keenly early on, he at least had to prove he stayed three miles in the mud and while he did not come under pressure, he certainly was not stopping.
“I was maybe surprised at how far we won, but the testing conditions are catching lots of horses out,” said Andrews.
“We did go a sensible gallop but he has such a high cruising speed, all he does is keep going. I fought him for so long and in the end I couldn’t waste any more energy on him.
“I just tried to relax him and hope he kept going, that was the hardest part of the race.
“He’s got endless amounts of talent and I’m just so lucky to be riding him.
“We always knew he had that talent, but he’s been keen in the past and it was a case of trying to use it right – that was my only concern as he’s a big, strong horse and I’m not very big.
“He was going around at half-speed and we couldn’t go any slower so in the end I just let him jump to the front because once you let him down all he was going to do is gallop.”
Hales, who owns the winner in a partnership with Sir Alex Ferguson, said: “We never had any doubts about Bridget and I wasn’t concerned at all about three miles given how he came up the hill in the Paddy Power. The Gold Cup is the dream again.”
The sponsors cut the winner to 16-1 from 50s for the Gold Cup.
Gordon Elliott, speaking at Navan, ruled out retirement for Tiger Roll.
“I doubt it would be his last race, definitely not,” he said.
“The ground went very soft over there so it probably wouldn’t have been ideal. We’ll see how we are.”