First Flow put up a remarkable performance to outrun a clutch of established Grade One stars for victory in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Clarence House Chase at Ascot.
Kim Bailey's nine-year-old mud-lover was stepping up to the top level over fences for the first time in his career, but extended his winning sequence to six – taking on reigning Champion Chase hero Politologue from a long way out and staying on to win by seven lengths at 14-1.
First Flow, ridden in trademark style by the dynamic David Bass, was also providing the popular Bailey with his first Grade One success since Master Oats won the 1995 Cheltenham Gold Cup for him.
Paul Nicholls’ favourite Politologue led early, and First Flow was always his nearest pursuer, as the pair built up a sizeable lead over the rest of the eight-strong field in the back straight.
Relishing the soft conditions, First Flow took over on the turn towards home and stayed on with great determination to repel all challengers, with Politologue second and Waiting Patiently just holding on for third ahead of the closing Fanion D’Estruval.
Bailey was quick to praise Bass, saying: "You have to hand it to that guy on top, who knows him so well. We realised we couldn’t take on Politologue for the lead from the start, but David took the bull by the horns.
"I was absolutely staggered, to be honest, because we both felt the ground wasn’t going to be soft enough and that if he had finished third he would have done very well. I admit I didn’t expect him to improve like that."
The Champion Chase obviously enters the equation for First Flow, and Bailey added: "Regarding Cheltenham, he has only been there once before when he ran in the Supreme (of 2018), but I wouldn’t mind going back there.
"If it’s soft or good to soft at Cheltenham you would have to think about the Queen Mother very seriously.
"Getting back to David, I had an irate punter ring up and criticise him to me, and I am so pleased that he has had to eat his words, because David got some of the best jumps out of the horse I have ever seen from him. He (Bass) never lets us down – he’s got better and better, and adores the horses."
He added: "I never thought (First Flow) would get to Grade One level, but I feel we should give it (Cheltenham) a go. We have eight to 10 pounds to find, but he is obviously improving. It’s quite an emotional moment. This horse can’t school over fences at home and jumps over tractor tyres."
Roksana (8-15F) returned to the scene of her fine effort in the Long Walk Hurdle to readily outclass her three foes in the Matchbook Betting Podcast Mares' Hurdle.
Ridden with cool confidence from off the pace set by Magic Of Light and Coded Message, the favourite turned into the home straight with jockey Harry Skelton holding a double handful.
Waiting until approaching the final flight, Skelton let out an inch of rein and Roksana cantered clear of Magic Of Light, with Eglantine Du Seuil back in third just ahead of Coded Message.
Trainer Dan Skelton will look at two options at the Cheltenham Festival, including the Stayers' Hurdle for his impressive winner, who was third to Paisley Park and Thyme Hill in the Long Walk. But for now the mare will enjoy a well-earned easy few days.
Skelton’s assistant Tom Messenger said: "It was always the plan to give her three races – at Wetherby, the Long Walk and this race – before letting her down ahead of a possible trip to Cheltenham. It’s now up in the air whether she runs in the mares’ race there, the Stayers’ Hurdle or waits for Aintree.
"You would like to think she wouldn’t be far away if we headed for the Stayers’, and it looks up for grabs in an open year. You have to be in it to win it, and she’s a tough individual that can be kept in hard training."