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Bobs Worth showed his class with a convincing victory in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.
Last season's RSA Chase hero was giving trainer Nicky Henderson his second success in the race and jockey Barry Geraghty his first.
Leading at the final fence in an incident-packed race, the 4-1 shot strode away to score from Tidal Bay, with gallant Irish raider First Lieutenant third and The Package fourth.
Fruity O'Rooney made the early running from Soll and Diamond Harry to set a strong pace in what is always a competitive staying handicap chase.
Saint Are came down at the fourth while Alfie Spinner, Roberto Goldback and Diamond Harry were also among the casualties.
At the business end of the race, it was First Lieutenant who was in front with four left to jump as Bobs Worth made stealthy progress to get into contention.
He had First Lieutenant cooked at the final fence before the enigmatic Tidal Bay put in a late bid, but the favourite kept on strongly to score by three and a quarter lengths.
First Lieutenant was five lengths back in third.
Geraghty, who bought the horse as a yearling, said: "He loves it, he really does.
"He's not overly big and you can't ask too much during the race. You just have to let him build and build.
"I was under the collar a lot of the way, but I knew going to the last I had plenty of horse.
"He has a very good pedigree of Jim Bolger's and I bought him as a yearling with my brother.
"He was not far from the top there. He loves Cheltenham and he loves it round here."
Henderson said: "It wasn't until I looked at him three nights ago at evening stables that I thought he was ready, it was like a rose coming out to bloom.
"He was always thought to be the classiest horse in the race and in a way he had to win it, but I am mighty glad that he has.
"He is so tough and he's owned by a bunch of my oldest mates, so this is for them more than anything.
"From now on it's a matter of plotting a gentle path to Cheltenham (for the Gold Cup). I don't think Kempton is his track, it's a matter of how we get there. One run would do me to be honest with you."
Paul Nicholls said of Tidal Bay: "He ran a great race and if Bobs Worth is going to be a Gold Cup horse he probably had to beat us like that.
"He's been beaten three lengths under a huge weight and we will go to the Lexus now."
Mouse Morris, trainer of First Lieutenant, said: "He's run a cracker, he's a spring horse and would have preferred better ground but I'm not using that as an excuse.
"He'll go for the Lexus."