Iris's Gift's unbeaten record over fences this season was brought to a disappointing end at Newbury yesterday as the 2004 Stayers' Hurdle winner was comfortably put in his place by the 14-1 chance Darkness.
The Jonjo O'Neill-trained grey jumped better than in the past, but failed to show much sparkle in the closing stages of his biggest steeplechasing test to date.
Bookmakers responded by taking Iris's Gift out of their ante-post lists for the Gold Cup and inserting Darkness at a best-priced 16-1 for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase.
The front-running Iris's Gift was sent off the 4-7 favourite yesterday, but tired so much close home that he only just held on to second slot by a short-head from Unleash, 13 lengths adrift of the Charlie Egerton-trained winner.
"I didn't really fancy Darkness," Egerton said, "but I was forced into taking on these very good horses. He absolutely has to go left-handed, which makes finding races quite difficult."
A downcast O'Neill did not offer any excuses for Iris's Gift, who appeared to return slightly sore to the unsaddling area. He said: "You couldn't really blame his jumping. He only made one little mistake, but you could see he wasn't travelling from as early as the back straight."
Mick Fitzgerald rode his first winner since returning from four months off with a broken bone in his neck on The Market Man in the handicap hurdle.
* Tony Culhane rode his 1,000th winner on Bazelle at Wolverhampton.