Master Minded was made to pull out all of the stops to win a thrilling renewal of the Kerrygold Champion Chase on day one of the Punchestown Festival.
Paul Nicholls’ dual Queen Mother Champion Chase hero was sent off the 30-100 market leader to follow up his latest Cheltenham success, and appeared to have matters sewn up turning for home.
But Ruby Walsh had to get serious with his mount on the run to the last and had runner-up Big Zeb not completely fluffed his lines at the final fence, he may well have come out on top.
It was a fifth Grade One success in little over a year for the French import, whose jumping eventually proved the decisive factor.
Big Zeb, trained by Colm Murphy, travelled well under Barry Geraghty and was right upsides jumping the last.
But having got right into the roots of the fence, he lost all momentum as the front-running Master Minded stretched clear.
Big Zeb (9-2) again picked up the gears, however, but was a fast-diminishing head in arrears at the line.
Nicholls said of the Clive Smith-owned winner: "The runner-up missed the last, which didn't help him, but Master Minded just half-pricked his ears a little bit.
“I said to Ruby let him bowl along in front and I think he just gets a bit idle.
“Last year at Cheltenham he got a real fast-run race and I think he could probably do with a bit of company and a good gallop.
“It’s the back-end of the season and I thought he looked as well as he’s looked for a long time.
“But some of ours that have been in since last July have run a bit flat of late.
“He’s won, and that is what it’s all about.
“At the moment he’ll stay at this trip and we’ll get him back for the Tingle Creek in the autumn.
“It would be nice to find something that can tow him along at a good gallop.”
Smith added: "It was closer than it needed to be, and it's a great run by Big Zeb.
“Master Minded idled in front and we may think about a pacemaker or a change of tactics next season.
“To win four Grade Ones in a season is just unbelievable and I’m thrilled with him.”
Geraghty said of Big Zeb: “He’s got his head down after the last, and was only beaten a head, so it was a great run – although it’s disappointing to be beaten.
“He’s jumped well and there is a lot to look forward to.”
Murphy echoed Geraghty’s sentiments, adding: “It’s a pity to get so close and not quite get there.
“Our fellow is still on the up, and is still inexperienced, so we have something to look forward to next year.
“If he jumped the last, it may have been a different story.
“We’ll come back next season and stick to the two-mile races.”