Ahoy Senor put himself in the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture when securing an emotional success for Lucinda Russell in the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase.
Runner-up in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase on his only previous visit to Prestbury Park, the eight-year-old had struggled this season in open company and was winning for the first time since taking the Mildmay Novices' Chase four starts ago.
Derek Fox was content to track Bryony Frost and Frodon on the first circuit and although Sounds Russian shot clear during the second lap of the New Course, a juddering error from Ruth Jefferson's charge four from home gave the pack chance to close the gap in this Grade Two contest.
Neck and neck jumping the last, Sounds Russian and Ahoy Senor were soon embroiled in a terrific tussle up the Cheltenham hill. Ahoy Senor prevailed by a length and a half length with Grand National hero Noble Yeats a further length back in third.
Betfair went 10-1 from 50s for the blue riband in March, while Coral offer slightly bigger odds of 12-1.
Russell said: "I'm really pleased. It is just the excitement of having a horse of that quality again. He's always been good, but he just had to learn about it and today I think he just came of age.
"In my mind, I thought he was going to take a lead and when he came into the paddock, Derek said I'm just going to go forward, and I thought 'great', and actually he was right, because it let him get his freshness out of him and then let Frodon give him a lead.
"He is just fantastic with the horse and they both trust each other and the confidence that he has got has been fantastic. I'm delighted and it is nice to see our monster back.
"I'm just pleased with him as I thought his jumping was OK and when he came round that bottom corner and accelerated, I did get a bit excited.
"I really hope he'll go to the Gold Cup. Whatever happens, he will definitely get an entry."
The trainer lost her father Peter this week and spoke poignantly in the winner's enclosure at how much Ahoy Senor had meant to him.
"It is very emotional. My dad was a fantastic person and he was so proud. He'd been ill for a year, I remember being in tears at Newbury when he (Ahoy Senor) won the John Francome Novices' Chase," she said.
"It was good in a way, because I spent a year saying thank you to dad and I appreciated him.
"As he went on in his life, racing meant more to him. He'd talk to me about which races we were going to and he'd phone me before the race and after the races and I will miss that intensely.
"This horse, he was interested in and loved and really wanted him to do well.
"Dad ran down a bit. We had two winners at Kelso and he was a little bit frailer at that point and he only went to hospital for 24 hours.
"To everyone, just say thank you to your dad, just tell them how much they mean to you, because I had the chance to do that. Say thank you. It was dad that set me up, dad that has given me that desire, that determination. He'd be very proud today and I'm really going to miss not phoning him on the way home."
Peter Scudamore, Russell's partner and assistant, said: "I've said he is the best horse we have ever trained then you begin to doubt yourself, but things eventually come right in the end and that is what sport is about. He is clearly a horse with a lot of ability."
Ruth Jefferson was pleased by the efforts of her brave runner-up, but is still to decide if the Gold Cup is the right destination for her consistent eight-year-old.
"We're still between a rock and a hard place —- we're no further forward," said Jefferson.
"It was a really good performance, but I think there is more strength in depth with the Irish horses.
"I know Minella Indo and A Plus Tard are potentially getting older and I know last year's race was also a bit of a sprint finish. But Galopin Des Champs has to come out at Leopardstown next weekend, so we will see what he does and then when we have more facts we can make a better decision."
One horse who will line-up on March 17 is Noble Yeats, who will take in the blue riband en route to a defence of his National crown.
"You can't be unhappy with that run," said owner Robert Waley-Cohen. "The horses at level weights finished behind and the horses behind were conceding weight, and he finished very strongly.
"He has won over two miles two, two miles seven, three mile one, and four mile two, so what his trip is we don't know, but probably further is better.
"That was important today, as he gets experience on the New Course, which is the same track as the Gold Cup.
"The plan is the Gold Cup and then the Grand National — and I don't envy the handicapper his dilemma.
"He never looks very flashy. He just keeps jumping away. He came up that hill well."