Zeta's Lad's trainer, John Upson, could not believe the photo had gone in his favour. He said: 'I'm stunned - he must have a long nose.'
Only Jodami and Zeta's Lad were able to close with Run For Free off the home turn after Run For Free, having his first run for nine months, took charge of the race from the off. Zeta's Lad was cruising two out, with Mark Dwyer at work on Jodami, but Run For Free is hard to pass and was still two lengths clear at the last.
But, on the run-in, he hung badly left, whereas Zeta's Lad, getting 4lb from him, ran home straight as a gun barrel to land the spoils on the line. Jodami kept on up the run-in to finish two lengths away in third.
Plans for Zeta's Lad include the Racing Post Handicap Chase at Kempton next month, then the Irish Grand National. Upson said: 'He's in the Gold Cup, but we were favoured by the weights today.'
Jodami, who was conceding 14lb to the winner and 10lb to Run For Free, keeps his place at the head of the betting to retain the Cheltenham Gold Cup. William Hill keep him at 3-1, with Run For Free cut to 8-1 from 12-1. Jodami's trainer, Peter Beaumont, said: 'He had just the sort of race I had hoped. He jumped well in this tacky ground and was not punished.'
Run For Free's presence, never mind his performance, was a credit to his trainer Martin Pipe's management. Last season's winner of both the Welsh and Scottish Nationals cut an artery in his leg when he fell off the ramp of his horse- box on a PR outing to Newton Abbot in August, hence his delayed reappearance this term. The Gold Cup is his first target. 'Then we'll think about Aintree,' Pipe said.
The Champion Hurdle market remained in a state of flux after the Irish raider Tiananmen Square was soundly beaten by Flakey Dove in the big-race trial, but things may become clearer today when the first two in the betting, Fortune And Fame and Granville Again, clash at Leopardstown. Tiananmen Square, carrying the burden of a large reputation and 11-10 favouritism, was travelling well two out but lost his action and finished lame.
But in front of him the perky mare Flakey Dove, owned, trained and bred by the Price family, was making the best of her cheerful way home and at the post was 20 lengths clear. The leading two-mile chaser Sybillin was a modest third, beaten 32 lengths, and the 1988 Champion Hurdle winner, Celtic Shot, having his first run for two years, plugged home fifth of five but not entirely disgraced.
Flakey Dove, who may appear again at Cheltenham on Saturday, will take her chance in the Champion, in which she finished seventh last year, and is priced at around 25-1 for this year's renewal in March.