Taranis introduced himself as a potential dark horse in Paul Nicholls’ apparently unassailable defence of the Cheltenham Gold Cup by making a successful return from serious injury in the Argento Chase.
Although a Grade Two race in its own right, this was Festival Trials Day at Prestbury Park and an opportunity for Taranis to join the winners of the last three Gold Cups, Kauto Star and Denman, in what may be a five-strong representation from the country’s top stable on March 19.
The chestnut collected the Ryanair Chase and the Jnwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal in 2007 but had been off the track since damaging a leg in the King George of that year.
Nicholls has had to handle Taranis with the utmost care since returning to training and patience paid off as jockey Nick Scholfield had him settled beautifully before presenting him upsides 7-4 favourite Carruthers on the turn for home.
Fitness could have been an issue from this point but he galloped all the way to the line at the handsome odds of 16-1.
“He’ll go straight for the Gold Cup now,” said Nicholls.
“It was a very bad injury after the King George and his owner, Mrs Yeoman, has been really patient.
“He came back in on July 1 and it’s only now that he has run. With his legs, you couldn’t do any fast work – he has just been going up the hill three times and on the walker – and with an injury like that, you never know if they retain the ability.
“He’s a very good horse, but to say I am surprised is an understatement.”
Nicholls saddled four of the first five home in last year’s Gold Cup and is finalising his team. Taranis was cut to 20-1 from 66s by sponsors totesport.
“Obviously Kauto and Denman are out in front but if this fellow improves a bit, and he should, he won’t be far behind them,” he continued.
“With What A Friend, I am still leaning towards saving him for Aintree but we have to talk about that, then there is My Will and maybe Tricky Trickster, who I have got to run somewhere before the Grand National.
“Funnily enough, I had been thinking about entering Taranis in the National too, he jumps well and it would be interesting to see what weight he gets. I just hope his leg’s all right tomorrow.”
It was a fine result for Scholfield, who added: “He’s not a bad third string, is he?
“I was travelling so well and the last thing Ruby (Walsh) said to me before I went out was if I had a chance, don’t hit the front too soon.
“I’ve arrived there way too early, but there was plenty in the tank and people forget he’s a Ryanair Chase winner.”
Six lengths in arrears was Carruthers, whose trainer Mark Bradstock reported: “I’m over the moon and I’ve always said that in that gluey ground he’s not quite strong enough yet.
“We’ll see how he is but he’s got a lovely break between now and Cheltenham.
“He’s run a cracker today and covered himself in real glory.”
Last year’s winner Joe Lively stayed on to finish third and his trainer Colin Tizzard added: “He’s back to his old self.
“He was giving them 4lb and it was lovely to see him run such a nice trial for the Grand National.”
Walsh had plumped for Taranis’ better fancied stablemate Inchidaly Rock, who slid to the ground at the last fence on the first circuit, while 3-1 second favourite Madison Du Berlais was a touch disappointing in fourth.