Both the Ascot hero Deep Sensation and the northern star Uncle Ernie were preferred to Waterloo Boy in the betting for yesterday's Tingle Creek Trophy. They had the form and the weight concessions to merit this. But would they have the spirit? From the moment the tapes whipped up, Richard Dunwoody and Waterloo Boy set out to force the question.
There were 13 fences to be jumped on their two-mile journey and despite the rain-sodden ground they came up quickly yesterday as the outsider Mr Felix tried to match strides at the head of the five-runner charge. There was pressure all the way down the back stretch but no sign of flinching. Running across to the Pond Fence, three from home, Dunwoody had to make it hurt some more.
Round the turn he swept, Waterloo Boy's neck already set down in effort, Uncle Ernie and Deep Sensation close, deadly and seemingly going the better.
But Waterloo Boy really attacked the second last, neither of the other two were as quick over and as they faced the hard run to the final fence, the advantage was back with the leader. Only temporarily.
For both Uncle Ernie and Deep Sensation had more momentum going to the last. Waterloo Boy met it completely out of stride and while he still had a good length in hand starting up the final upward furlong Deep Sensation now looked sure to cut him down.
But this is where you have to dig deep. No one is accusing Uncle Ernie or Deep Sensation of being a quitter. Their very record denies that. But up this hill, in this ground, with that amount of oxygen already spent victory would go to the toughest. They never had a chance with Waterloo Boy.
It was right that such a finish should close a week which had seen the loss of the great trainer Arthur Stephenson, whose whole attitude to life was one of cheerful toughness and whose favourite put down was 'Don't be soft.' No one who saw Waterloo Boy yesterday, a horse whose high standards have been further improved by a wind operation, would ever accuse him of being soft.
Valfinet showed similar qualities in the featured William Hill Handicap Hurdle. After his runaway victory last time at Cheltenham he had always seemed something of a certainty with only 10st 2lb here. But favouritism doesn't make you run faster and no race is that easy when the ground is heavy - especially at Sandown.
Valfinet made the running in the usual Martin Pipe team style. He had some luck when the challenging King Credo blundered desperately at the second last, but Kilcash looked his master at the final flight and rubbed home the wound by pushing him halfway across the track on the run-in.
A hundred yards out and promotion in the stewards' room looked the only chance of victory. But Jonathon Lower had a brave horse beneath him. He set down to take the battle to his tormentor. The post was close but Valfinet was always going to make it. Yes, he too had the winner's look.
Waterloo Boy's success had followed a brilliant chasing circuit by the novice Wonder Man to add to the tally which had made David Nicholson the leading trainer yesterday morning. But Valfinet himself followed a typical Martin Pipe effort when Run For Free beat his better-fancied stablemate Miinnehoma at Chepstow to put the champion back on top of the trainers' table.
But it's early days. Getting the horses to the races is difficult enough, getting the good horses there at mental and physical peak is the tricky bit. Both the Nicholson and Pipe teams can look back happy on yesterday.