Tullamore Dew once again saved his best form for the Cheltenham Festival.
Trained by Findon-based Nick Gifford, the 11-year-old finished fourth in the Grade 3 JLT Specialty Handicap Chase yesterday.
It was the third time the Pistolet Bleu gelding had made the frame in his four appearances at the Prestbury Park extravanganza.
The Gary Moore-trained Fruity O’Rooney, who went off at 10/1, stayed on to take fifth after a blunder at the 11th severely hampered his bid to go one better than last year’s second in the £90,000 contest.
However, it was the performance of the 133-rated Tullamore Dew which was the surprise package.
His handicap mark had been on the slide since an fine second to Massini’s Maguire in a listed contest at Ascot in February of last year.
But he bounced back to form in the familiar surroundings of Prestbury Park, where he finished second in the Coral Cup in 2010 and third in the Listed Centenary Novices’ Handicap Chase in 2011. While he was outpaced by the eventual winner Golden Chieftain with three fences left to jump, the 33/1-shot stayed on up the hill.
And under pressure from jockey Tom Cannon, he crossed the line just three-quarters-of-a-length behind third-placed White Star Line, with Our Mick in second.
Elsewhere on day one of the Cheltenham Festival, two Fontwell bumper winners found themselves outclassed.
Puffin Billy, who announced himself as one to watch with victory in West Sussex a year ago, could only finish fifth in the Grade 1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at 14/1 as Champagne Fever claimed glory.
And Cinders And Ashes, a debut scorer at Fontwell in October 2010, was pulled up in the Champion Hurdle as Irish raider Hurricane Fly regained his crown.
Meanwhile, there was a fifth Festival triumph for Quevega and wins for Simonsig and Rajdhani Express.