Sue Smith moved a step closer towards her 1,000th winner as a trainer after Wakanda completed a hat-trick in the Sodexo Silver Cup at Ascot.
The improving six-year-old followed up victories at Wetherby and in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle with another hard-fought success in the three-mile Listed prize.
Having been at the head of affairs from flag-fall, the 8-1 chance looked set to be swallowed up by a host of rivals on the run down to the penultimate fence.
Not one for relenting, Wakanda continued to find extra in reserves to hold off the fast-finishing Virak by a length, with Hennessy fourth Fingal Bay a further three-quarters of a length away in third.
Smith now has 996 winners under National Hunt rules.
She said: “We are delighted with him. The horse has improved so much. He is a very economical jumper and him and Danny Cook are like coffee and cream.
“He is a very tough, game little horse. He is going to have a break now as he has run three times and won three times.
“He will probably come back in February time but there is nothing mapped out for him. He does need soft ground, though.”
Festive Ascot racegoers were treated to a pre-Christmas cracker as Sternrubin and Jolly’s Cracked It dead-heated for first place in the Ladbroke.
The former, trained by Philip Hobbs, looked beaten late on once Jolly’s Cracked It (9-1) went into overdrive after the last flight.
But 7-1 joint-favourite Sternrubin, who had set a scorching pace under Richard Johnson, somehow battled back for one last lunge to cross the line in unison with Harry Fry’s inmate.
Hobbs said: “It is as good a result we could have hoped for in the circumstances.
“Where we go from here, I don’t know as this was the aim.
“He is still a novice so we have got that option as well.”
Fry said: “He run a career-best but Noel (Fehily) thought that he had been robbed on the line.
“This was the plan for the season to stick over hurdles and come back here for the Ladbroke with him having won two novice hurdles round here last year and for it to come off is brilliant.”
Mon Successeur put a string of near-misses behind him when he came with a late run to take the BGC Partners Handicap Chase.
Trainer Paul Nicholls said: “We might just find a valuable handicap for him over the Christmas period at Kempton or Cheltenham.”
Amiral Collonges took a big step forward on his previous start in Britain to take the Foundation Developments Ltd Novices’ Handicap Hurdle, while the Hobbs-trained Royal Regatta (8-1) regained the winning thread in the GL Events Owen Brown Graduation Chase.
Seventh Sky had the Charlie Mann stable on cloud nine by defying top weight to victory with a bold front-running display in the Tommy Whittle Chase at Haydock.
Second in Aintree’s Grand Sefton Chase over the Grand National fences just two weeks ago, the eight-year-old found these obstacles a piece of cake in comparison.
Only last month, too, he took on the likes of Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Coneygree and the exciting Vautour.
Giving Gavin Sheehan another good spin, Seventh Sky (10-1) never allowed his nearest rival Spookydooky to put in a serious bid and bounded home by seven lengths.
Sheehan would like Seventh Sky to have another crack at Aintree, preferably in the Topham Chase rather than the National.
He said: “I haven’t sat on him much this year but I rode him the last day over the big ones and he was electric over them.
“I knew he was in good form and had come on for Aintree. I schooled him the other day and he was electric. Me and Charlie discussed plans after his run at Liverpool and I think he’d be better in the Topham.
“I don’t think he’d be too far away but in the National it might just drag him out a bit.”
Smart Talk (3-1 favourite) galloped the opposition into submission as she swept to an all-the-way win in the Watch Racing UK on Three Devices Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.
Paddy Brennan took no prisoners from the outset on Brian Ellison’s five-year-old, who won unchallenged by eight lengths from Sunshine Corner.
“Jumping’s her forte,” said Ellison.
“She goes a good lick and enjoys it.
“We’ve schooled her over fences and she’s brilliant.
“I had a look at Ascot on Friday but we changed our minds and came here instead.
“She’s ready to go chasing but this was a nice prize to win.”
Arthur’s Oak (11-4 favourite) never saw another rival as Venetia Williams’s seven-year-old made all of the running in tremendous style to land the DH Welton 40th Anniversary Handicap Chase by 17 lengths in the hands of Liam Treadwell.
“He just found a lovely rhythm and jumped super,” said Treadwell.
“He’s physically very strong and we thought he might find this two miles a bit sharp, but he was in a high gear from an early stage and put them to the sword.”