Politologue (6-1) led his rivals a merry dance to win the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase in tremendous fashion.
With the late withdrawals of Altior and Chacun Pour Soi, it appeared Defi Du Seuil faced a relatively simple task given the way his stellar season had gone.
But while he was sent off the 2-5 favourite, Barry Geraghty was sending distress signals out a long way from home and he never looked like getting on terms.
Remarkably, the winner and stablemate Dynamite Dollars (7-1) were the first runners of the meeting for Paul Nicholls and he filled the first two places in one of the biggest races of the week.
Harry Skelton - riding at the request of owner John Hales - was positive in front on the grey, making his fifth Festival appearance with his previous best coming when second to Altior in this 12 months ago.
Politologue and Dynamite Dollars were Nicholls' first two runners at this year's Festival - after a rare day without representation for the multiple champion trainer on Tuesday.
What a performance!— CheltenhamRacecourse (@CheltenhamRaces) March 11, 2020
Politologue is peerless in the @Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, leading from start to finish for Paul Nicholls and Harry Skelton ??#CheltenhamFestival pic.twitter.com/pYuiqwpKLm
The result barely looked in any doubt once he got loose coming down the hill and the chance had nine and a half lengths in hand crossing the line. Defi Du Seuil trailed in a well-beaten fourth.
Nicholls said: "My plan when I rang John up at Christmas was I said I wasn't going to run him until the Champion Chase.
"I wanted to do everything I could to have him fit and fresh and all week and he's just been looking amazing. He had a great prep. He ran ran well last year and was entitled to go close on that run, and I thought he was in a better place.
"I just decided this year we'd bring him here really, really fresh. He's been doing all his work with Clan Des Obeaux, who is the same, and he's been in really good form.
"He looked outstanding in the parade ring beforehand and I have been getting more bullish about him.
"It's his fifth Festival in a row and testament to the horse, he bled after the Tingle Creek and we just changed a few things.
"He does all his work on the level and trotting up the road. We just tweaked his work to stop him bleeding and he did the job right."
He added: "I had no runners yesterday because I had nothing with a chance. Those two horses today looked amazing beforehand today and I thought, 'they've got big chances'.
"It's sad for those horses that didn't make it, but you can only beat what's running. Everyone thought Defi Du Seuil was going to win, he didn't run his race, obviously.
"Politologue was always going to have a nice lead in front and today was his day. You've got to believe in your own horses.
"I thought Sam Twiston-Davies was going to ride, but John is obviously close to the Skeltons now and Harry comes and rides out once a week, so I wasn't bothered.
"Dynamite will win loads of races over two and a half. Today will make a man of him and he just wants a trip."
Hales was winning the race for the third time after One Man and Azertyuiop, and said: "That was brilliant. We dictated it from start to finish. Tactically, Harry got it absolutely right.
"In his previous race we thought they'd gone too slow, so I said make your own pace. If that means going on from the start, run the finish out of them - and that's what he did.
"I've over the moon. My third Queen Mother."
Of the beaten favourite, trainer Philip Hobbs said: "I've no idea what happened really. He has been great all season and won his three races. We thought he came here in very good form, as everything had gone well with him at home, then that happens, and at this stage we have no idea what happened.
"Even before three out he wasn't happy with him. Obviously we will get him back home and check him over. We will have a look at things at the next week then decide what to do.
"It is too early to say if his season is over."
Geraghty said: "He was never really going. I was trying to nurse him into it, but I knew from the back of the third-last that the game was up. Full credit to the winner and he was the last horse that Defi passed here in November. He got his day and it was well justified.
"He (Defi Du Seuil) has (dominated the division all season), but he is fine and healthy and he is OK. For no obvious reason he didn't perform, but he will have other days. He is still a gorgeous horse and I'm sure there is plenty more fun to be had with him."