It came thanks to the doughty efforts of Rightsaidfred, a patched-up 11-year-old former point-to-pointer. The gelding, with Graham Bradley earning every penny of his fee in the saddle, ploughed through deeply testing ground and driving rain to outslog Ask Antony by three and a half lengths, with Toni's Tip third of the five exhausted finishers in the three-and-a-quarter-mile contest.
It was not a particularly edifying sight as the principals, with limbs of jelly, staggered over the last few obstacles like Hogmanay revellers. Rightsaidfred must have been the least drunk, for the momentum he maintained at the final fence as Ask Antony all but sat down in a puddle stood him in good stead. He was able to establish enough of a lead to resist his younger, grey rival's renewed staying-on effort.
It was the first time Rightsaidfred, who was landing a hat-trick after two wins in lesser company under bigger weights, had been professionally ridden - his usual pilot, his owner Peter Bull, was absent on a skiing holiday in Val d'Isere.
Rightsaidfred is the star of his trainer's 10-strong yard and has had to overcome various tribulations in his life, notably a certain clumsiness. "He was off for two and a half years after he damaged a stifle when he fell over in the field," said Newton-Smith, in her second season with a licence, "and he has never been the most natural jumper. But hunting and show-jumping have helped his technique no end, and he has a big heart. He's a good boy and we all love him dearly."
Most of the rest of the afternoon belonged to Nigel Twiston-Davies and Carl Llewellyn, who combined to excellent effect for a 62-1 treble with the hurdlers Bosuns Mate, King's Road and Moorish.
In the day's most valuable race, the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle, King's Road, the 11-10 favourite, was given every assistance by runner-up Rio's King, who scored the equine equivalent of an own goal on the run-in.
The two sons of Kings Ride came to the last flight together, with Rio's King apparently going the better. But the big, awkward seven-year-old lurched violently to his left over the obstacle, doing his rival no favours in the process, and continued his wayward tacking on the run to the winning line.
King's Road, though, put his head down and ran straight and true once back on an even keel and had two lengths to spare at the post to mark himself, despite one bad blunder, as one of the best of the staying novices, with the Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle as his Cheltenham Festival target. "He does fight," said Twiston-Davies, "and, though he did make that mistake, it was uncharacteristic. He 'll go chasing next season and is one to look forward to."
Bosuns Mate, winner of a Grade 2 race at Prestbury Park three weeks previously, also started favourite, at 2-1, and was entitled to cope with the drop in class to the Trevor Salmon Novices' Hurdle. He did so without undue trouble, though it took him until the last flight to shake off the rather persistent attentions of Yeoman Sailor.
But the plaudits among the Twiston-Davies trio must surely go to Moorish. Now a nine-year-old, in his palmy days he was once second to Mysilv in a Triumph Hurdle, no less, but had not won a race since his pre-Cheltenham run at Folkestone in February 1994.
Yesterday the 9-1 chance looked beat again as Bold Gait, the 2-1 favourite, went past him at the last hurdle, but dredged up all his old determination on the soft ground he loves to get his head back in front in the shadow of the post.
Adrian Maguire carried on with his impression of Atlas without the sky on his shoulders in the opening novices' chase as he skimmed Arkle Trophy candidate Nipper Reed over, and sometimes through, the fences with all his old elan. It was his fourth winner since renouncing his retainer with David Nicholson five days ago.Reuse content