Silviniaco Conti proved himself a worthy heir to the incredible Kauto Star in triumphing in the Betfair Chase at Haydock yesterday.
While it is fanciful to believe the six-year-old can reach the same heights as last year's winner, the 7-4 shot leapt to second-favourite for the Gold Cup with most bookmakers under a typically well-judged front-running ride from Ruby Walsh that left champion trainer Paul Nicholls beaming.
Last year's Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Long Run, the 11-8 favourite, came second, with The Giant Bolster (15/2) third.
Nicholls confirmed the Gold Cup is the intention and suggested Silviniaco Conti may not run again until then. "I said if he won today we'd go for the Gold Cup and that is the plan," Nicholls said.
"You couldn't leave him in his box on Gold Cup day after that performance. But he wants to be fresh and I'm not going to run him through the winter in the mud."
Walsh partnered four-time winner Kauto Star – who led the runners down to the start, to great applause from the Haydock crowd – to both of his Gold Cup victories and is hopeful Silviniaco Conti can give him the hat-trick.
Walsh said: "The Gold Cup looks the logical step. You win the Charlie Hall, you win the Betfair, it's the obvious target for him. He's a good stayer, he's not slow. I'd love to ride another Gold Cup winner."
It was clear from when the tapes dropped no-one that was overly keen to make the running, so Walsh let his mount set what was a fairly sedate gallop for the first circuit. Silviniaco Conti injected more pace into the race heading down the back straight for the second time and some fast and accurate jumping kept him in charge.
Long Run, who was left chasing Kauto Star's shadow 12 months ago, travelled with more zest thid time and was right on the leader's tail turning in, but Silviniaco Conti galloped all the way to the line after the final fence to win by two-and-a-half lengths. The Giant Bolster just held on take third ahead of Weird Al.