Never mind celebrating one of the biggest wins of a long career, Yorkshire trainer Malcolm Jefferson was made to feel like the man who had just shot Bambi when Cape Tribulation lunged late to land the Argento Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday.
Seldom has such a roar turned so quickly to such a silence as when Imperial Commander, the local hero and 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, ran out of puff in the dying strides to spoil what would have been a dream comeback.
They say that nobody remembers the guy who finishes second, but on this occasion it is the winner who is in danger of being forgotten. Cape Tribulation needs due respect, more than he is being afforded by the bookies dismissing him as a 33-1 shot for the Gold Cup. He is an upwardly mobile chaser who might well have a big say in the outcome in March.
Jefferson has Festival form. Back in the Nineties, he sent down Dato Star to win the Champion Bumper and that wasn't his only big day. He has never taken horses to Cheltenham just for the hell of it and those who took the hint when Cape Tribulation and Attaglance were sent on the long road south-west last year were rewarded with big-priced wins.
But a Cheltenham Gold Cup win would be something else and Jefferson is confident of a bold showing. "A horse really has to stay to win the Gold Cup," he said yesterday, "and a few of the others are better over two and a half miles. Cape Tribulation will get the trip and that will make a big difference, especially if the ground is soft. He's been a classy horse for a long time – he ran well in one of the big Festival novice hurdles a few years back – but he's really coming good now."
Three of the leading English-trained Champion Hurdle hopefuls, Darlan, Grandouet and Rock On Ruby, have been entered at Sandown on Saturday, but the anticipated very soft ground is a worry. Harry Fry, trainer of the reigning champion, Rock On Ruby, is talking about going straight to the Festival without another outing.
Chris McGrath's Nap: Asterism (3.30 Wolverhampton)
Promising maiden winner for Henry Cecil when last seen out more than a year ago and is expected to prove too good for modest rivals.
Next best: Pategonia (4.00 Wolverhampton)
Improved on debut effort on this track last time.
Where the money's going: Oscara Dara is 4-1 favourite with the sponsors for the Betfred Hurdle at Sandown on Saturday.