Hales is no stranger to Festival success, having walked into the hallowed winner’s enclosure with the likes of One Man and Azertyuiop, but glory in the blue riband has so far eluded him.
Aux Ptits Soins lined up in one of the most fiercely competitive handicaps of the week as a fascinating contender, making his first start in Britain and his first appearance since winning at Auteuil last autumn.
After overcoming a significant mistake at the second flight, the 9-1 shot was never too far off the pace in the hands of Sam Twiston-Davies and looked like running out a comprehensive winner as he rounded the home turn still on the bridle.
In the end, the front-running Irish raider Zabana would not go down without a fight and favourite Activial and Taglietelle also joined the party after the final hurdle, but the Nicholls runner triumphed by a neck.
Hales said: “Every time you get a winner here, it gets sweeter. I have never seen a horse do so many things wrong in a race yet still win at Cheltenham.
“His jumping was electric at times, but not spot on. We felt that the horse deserved to be here. He might have one more go at hurdling at Aintree before going chasing.
“I have bought this horse for the Gold Cup. I have never won it, but this is the one for it maybe in two or three years’ time.”
Nicholls said: “He’s run a blinder. He shown us plenty at home but I was worried he was inexperienced.
“To be fair to Nick Scholfield (jockey), he said he’s the best horse he’s ever sat on. The Aintree Hurdle is on my mind now.”
Nicholls also claimed the Queen Mother Champion Chase with Dodging Bullets before sealing his hat-trick with the Scholfield-ridden Qualando in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
The master of Ditcheat also had the runner-up Bouvreuil and the fifth home All Yours.
“All three of ours are nice horses. There was nothing between the three of them, and I thought they’d all go well,” said Nicholls.
“It’s good to give Nick a winner as he’s a big part of the team.”
Moon Racer sent favourite-backers home happy by claiming the Weatherbys Champion Bumper under a jubilant Tom Scudamore.
The 9-2 market leader for his first start since winning on his debut over the course and distance in October, Moon Racer picked up from the home turn and had enough in the tank to repel Modus by a length and a half.
Pipe said: “Everything went wrong because he got left at the start, and that was not according to the plan.
“Tom had to take the brave’s man route — up the inside — and hope that the gaps appeared.
“Luckily they did, and he quickened up the hill well.
“It’s a relief to get a winner on the board.
“We’ll enjoy this and see where we go, but we’ll start him over two miles over hurdles next year.”