A pair of men rich in Cheltenham Festival expertise conspired to steal a Ladbrokes World Hurdle in which the majority could not see beyond two other horses.
More Of That (15-2) was having only the fifth start of his career, but his trainer Jonjo O’Neill has a magnetic grip on races at the meeting and jockey Barry Geraghty had already helped himself to Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle before halting the fanatically-supported 11-8 favourite Annie Power by a length and a half.
There was to be a touching moment of generosity in the winner’s enclosure just minutes afterwards as Big Buck’s, a record four times the hero here, was instantly retired after his advancing age propelled him no further than fifth and he was given a lap of honour in front of the crowd.
Annie Power had an unbeaten record more than twice as long as More Of That’s career, and the form this week of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, as well as the implicit belief which they had in the chestnut mare, had swelled a tide of support for her in the market which did not break before the start.
Walsh attempted to settle her in behind his old companion Big Buck’s, whose pilot Sam Twiston-Davies made an earlier move from the third-last flight but had started to become increasingly urgent as the 11-year-old did not respond in his traditional manner.
While Annie Power made progress, so did More Of That and At Fishers Cross, who AP McCoy had picked ahead of the winner. His choice will have brought similar frustration to that of finishing second behind another of his retaining owner JP McManus’s horses, Jezki, in the Champion.
More Of That had only appeared in the greater consciousness when making a successful return in December’s Relkeel Hurdle, but he galloped remorselessly up the Cheltenham hill once again, while At Fishers Cross was five lengths further back in third.
“It doesn’t get much better than this,” said O’Neill, who had earlier won the JLT Novices’ Chase with Taquin Du Seuil.
A recovery from injury during 2013 had already ended Big Buck’s dominance in the stayers’ crown, but trainer Paul Nicholls was pleased to have offered him the chance of winning for an unprecedented fifth time.
“Younger legs beat him. I could see halfway round we were in a bit of trouble and retirement is the right thing to do,” he said.