Only six of the nine who started were still on their feet at the fourth fence, Sibton Abbey and Yorkshire Gale having gone at the second and Young Hustler at the third. A circuit later the Hennessy winner Couldnt Be Better and Ghia Gneuiagh had joined them on the floor, by which time Riverside Boy was tailed off.
At the third-last Unguided Missile blundered badly and Dunwoody lost an iron, and as the long-time leader Unholy Alliance dropped back the only jockey looking happy was Mick Fitzgerald, cruising on Rough Quest. And, when Unguided Missile made another mistake at the last, the prize seemed the Hennessy runner-up's for the taking.
But those who were counting their cash reckoned without Dunwoody's strength and his partner's gameness, and the pair forced themselves in front again in the last couple of strides. Nick Richards, son and assistant of the winning trainer Gordon Richards, said: "It may seem an odd thing to say of the winner of a big chase, but the first thing we'll do is sharpen up his jumping. He'll have to jump better than that if he's going to progress. Ironically, though, I think that mistake at the last may have helped. The other horse doesn't like to be in front for too long."
Much of the shine was taken off the day's richest race, the Long Walk Hurdle, by the enforced withdrawal of the Irish ace Dorans Pride, reported by Michael Hourigan yesterday to be recovering, but not yet out of danger, after major abdominal surgery. In his absence Silver Wedge produced a dogged staying performance to take the Grade 1 contest. The four-year- old looked cooked after ceding the lead to gambled-on Belvederian four out, but found his second wind in the short straight and jumped the last clear of Putty Road.
The brave little chestnut is something of a handful at home, and his trainer Oliver Sherwood paid tribute to the lad who looks after and rides him, Tim Griffiths. Sherwood said: "He kicks most people out of his box, and decides himself if he will condescend to work. But Tim takes him out quietly on his own, and kids him along quietly."
Mysilv, third favourite for the Champion Hurdle, will miss the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton next week after a below-par performance against Pridwell in the Knights Royal Hurdle. Ironically, Martin Pipe's stable jockey missed the four-length winner, having transferred to the other Nicholashayne runner, the unplaced Kissair, after the helicopter due to bring that one's booked rider, Jonothan Lower, to the course broke down.
There was a reminder that the spoils at top level in the jumping game are not the sole prerogative of the big stables with the victory of Senor El Betrutti in the Noel Novices' Chase.
The 66-1 winner, who relished the fast ground as he outjumped and outgalloped some of the country's best two-and-a-half mile novices without the semblance of a fluke, is one of just four horses trained near Stow-on-the-Wold by Susan Nock, who took out a permit only two months ago.
Senor El Betrutti, who runs in the colours of her husband Gerard, was her second winner from five runners. The Roselier six-year-old was trained last season by Charlie Brooks, who was one of the first to offer congratulations, but added wryly: "I hope all my owners' wives don't decide to become trainers."