Fox Appeal’s ambitions of Arkle glory at the Cheltenham Festival were dealt a blow on Saturday.
The seven-year-old son of Brian Boru travelled to Doncaster for the Grade 2 Lightning Novices’ Chase.
A potential showdown with former Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby was scuppered by the ground, as trainer Harry Fry opted not to run his stable star.
But despite his chief rival’s defection, Fox Appeal was only able to finish third of five in the £30,000 clash over an extended two miles.
Valdez had his odds for the Arkle cut to 12/1 from 16s after claiming victory at 15/8.
He got the better of Arnaud by a little over three lengths on the run-in with 2/1-shot Fox Appeal a length further adrift in third spot.
In his defence, the Emma Lavelle-trained talent was carrying a 3lb penalty after winning the Grade 2 Betfred Novices’ Chase at Ascot.
That added burden made his performance all the more creditable.
But Fox Appeal, who has one win and two seconds to his name in three visits to Fontwell, failed to allay fears over his ability to live with the best young chasers over two miles at the Festival.
And he remains a 33/1 shot for that battle on March 11.