Johns Spirit provided Richie McLernon with the biggest success of his career by gamely clinging on to win the Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
Jonjo O’Neill’s six-year-old had won at the previous meeting but had a 10lb higher mark to contend with.
Settled last in the early stages, he jumped into contention running up the hill where Easter Meteor was still going great guns at the head of affairs.
Hidden Cyclone and Colour Squadron were both heavily involved approaching two out, but Johns Spirit (7-1) was kicked into the lead as Easter Meteor came down, slightly impeding eventual runner-up Colour Squadron in the process.
Despite the latter running on strongly from the last, Johns Spirit had gone clear and although idling he had enough left to win by three-quarters of a length.
Hidden Cyclone, who had been towards the head of affairs from the off, was third and Attaglance stayed on for fourth.
McLernon said: ``I'm lucky to ride for Mr O'Neill and he always fills me with confidence.
“The fences were narrow enough today so instead of going down the inner I went wider than was ideal but his jumping was brilliant up the hill and he just arrived there.
“Fair play to the little horse, he took it up with a long way to go but he stuck his neck out.
“My friend is watching me, John Thomas McNamara (paralysed in a fall in March), and I hope that put a smile on his face.”
O’Neill said: “It’s great to have a runner in it, never mind win it. Richie did a great job, he knows him really well and everything worked out.
“He was left in front which wasn’t ideal, but he clung on.
“He’s improved this year, last year he was still a bit weak, but he loves it here. When everything goes right for him he looks very good.
“He’s more relaxed at home, he used to be quite keen.
“We’ll see what the handicapper does but he will probably come back here for the December meeting.
“Richie is a great lad to have around the yard.”
Frank Berry, owner JP McManus’ racing manager, said of Colour Squadron: “He ran a blinder, he was just beaten by a better horse on the day. He got a bit tangled up at the second-last but that’s not really an excuse.
Shark Hanlon said of Hidden Cyclone: “He jumped brilliantly and I knew it would help him that they were going quicker, he just didn’t get home.
“Two-miles-two would be his trip, even two miles.”