McFabulous stamped his class on the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle at Kempton.
The Grade Two bumper winner was disappointing on his first couple of starts over obstacles last winter, but having got his act together in the new year with wins at Market Rasen and in the EBF Final at Kempton, he made a successful return in October’s Persian War at Chepstow.
The seven-year-old’s winning run came to an end in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury the following month, but he was far from disgraced in finishing third behind the top-class pair of Thyme Hill and Paisley Park, and he was the 10-11 favourite to land this Grade Two prize, rescheduled from Cheltenham’s abandoned New Year’s Day card.
There were a few worrying moments for his supporters during the early stages, with a couple of untidy leaps putting McFabulous on the back foot and briefly taking him to the rear of the field under Harry Cobden.
But the Paul Nicholls-trained gelding made stealthy headway racing down the back straight and eased clear in the end – passing the post with just over two lengths in hand over On The Blind Side.
Nicholls said: “This trip (two and a half miles) suits him. He will have an entry in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, just in case it falls apart or something, but I guess I’d nearly keep him fresh for Aintree. I think Aintree over two and a half would suit him well.
“A fresh, flat track would suit him as well. We might then look at Sandown on the last day of the season as there is a lovely race for him there over two-five, then we can go chasing in the autumn as that is his job.
“We tried the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and he wasn’t beaten far, but I’m not convinced I want to give him a hard race against those horses at this stage of his career if he is going to be a super chaser.
“I see him as an ideal horse for the Kauto Star (Novices’ Chase, at Kempton) next season.”
Of more immediate plans, he added: “You could look at the National Spirit Hurdle as it is a valuable race, but it is usually desperate ground and I wouldn’t be keen to run him.
“If we go to Aintree we could do that. I will talk to the boys. They are keen to have an entry for Stayers’ Hurdle, but it doesn’t convince me after Newbury. I think Aintree would be really good for him.
“He has got loads of natural speed and ability. He has come back in the winner’s enclosure with his tail in the air and it hardly looked like he had a race.”
Olly Murphy was delighted with third-placed Thomas Darby, saying: “He ran an absolute cracker and is crying out for three miles.
“It was a very encouraging run. He missed three out, but he was travelling well throughout the race.
“I was desperate to run him at Leopardstown over Christmas, but we couldn’t get there for one reason or another.
“The three-mile Grade One at Aintree will be his ultimate aim, as opposed to the Stayers’ Hurdle. There was a lot of positives to take out of that.”