Irish raider Some Neck got up in the shadow of the post to land a thrilling Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.
Formerly a useful performer for Willie Mullins, the grey was tailed off on his first start for John McConnell in last month’s Lismullen Hurdle at Navan, but shaped significantly better when third on his cross-country debut at Punchestown on his latest outing.
With amateur rider Ben Harvey keeping the mount, the 18-1 shot always appeared to be enjoying himself in the Cotswolds, but looked booked for minor honours rounding the home turn, with the bold-jumping Defi Des Carres in a clear lead jumping the final obstacle.
However, Some Neck began to close the deficit racing up the hill and lunged late at the end of three and three-quarter miles to win the day by a short head, with well-backed favourite De Forgotten One back in third.
There was a sting in the tail for Harvey, who was suspended for 11 days and fined £400 for using his whip above the permitted level from approaching the final fence.
McConnell did not make the trip to Cheltenham and instead watched the race at Dundalk ahead of saddling several runners at the track.
He said: “I just watched the race here in the stable yard at Dundalk and my voice is a bit hoarse from all the shouting – it was brilliant.
“It’s great for the owners – this is their first winner.
“We took a risk buying him out of Willie Mullins’. He’s always been a horse with a big engine, but he can throw in two or three mistakes, certainly over the conventional fences. He just seems to be a little bit more concentrated going cross-country racing.
“We bought him before he was due to go through the ring at Doncaster. I pushed for him as he always caught my eye as a horse that ran well, even though he maybe wasn’t foot perfect.
“We were going to go down the hurdling route with him, but we decided to school him over the cross-country fences and he seemed to love it, so we said we’d have a go at Punchestown. He ran very well there and we knew he’d improve.
“We did think we’d run well today, but you never expect to win at Cheltenham, so it’s fantastic.”
Asked whether Some Neck is likely to return to Cheltenham for the Festival in March, the trainer added: “I’m sure he will – he’s entitled to after today.
“Obviously the big guns are going to be back out then, but I think the Cheltenham hill is made for him, so it’s certainly something we’ll look at.
“He can go for some of those big, staying chases as well. We’ll enjoy it and have a good look at the programme book.”
Twenty-year-old Harvey was similarly thrilled.
He added: That was brilliant – it was the ultimate for me. Winning a cross-country race around here is brilliant.
“I had a willing partner underneath me, which always helps. All he does is gallop and he is tough and really genuine.
“Cheekpieces gave me a hand today to help ride a race on him. I thought I was going to have to settle for second to be honest, but he just kept finding for me.
“It’s my first visit here and first winner, it’s brilliant.”