SIRUH Du Lac maintained his rapid improvement with a gutsy front-running display under Lizzie Kelly to win the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase at Cheltenham.
Having enjoyed a perfect season to date with three wins to his credit, Nick Williams’ charge was sent off the 9/2 second-favourite.
Despite beating Nicky Henderson’s Janika last time out it was his old rival who was the choice of the punters – and when he loomed up on Siruh Du Lac’s outside at the second-last it seemed he might gain his revenge.
With Eamon An Cnoic and Spiritofthegames also snapping at his heels, the Nick Williams-trained six-year-old was being challenged on all sides.
However, just as he had done on Trials Day in January, Siruh Du Lac found plenty for pressure to beat Janika by three-quarters of a length and give Kelly a second Festival winner after Coo Star Sivola 12 months ago.
Kelly said: "My question mark was whether Siruh Du Lac would stay, because I was not really in a position to be taking a pull down the back to get a breather into him. He travelled really well and by God, he jumped. He is an absolute monster and will come on from that as well.
"It was fantastic watching Bryony. She and Rachael [Blackmore, who won the Close Brothers Handicap Chase on A Plus Tard on Tuesday] are excellent jockeys and are making us perform better. I am delighted we have a really good girls' weighing room at the moment. With three winners this week, it is very good."
Kelly continued: "He jumps, and I just knew that was my biggest weapon. I wanted to control the race - I thought he'd get home because he battled back really well last time - but last time I was having to really hold on to him and not use his jumping to his best ability, and I just knew I could really get people into trouble early doors.
"He's a fantastic horse. We've always thought a lot of him and his owners, John White and Ann Underhill, have been so good to me in terms of letting me ride the horse every time. It's quite funny as we weren't going to run him. We were going to go for something a bit easier, and then I think John might have got all riled up in the prep for Cheltenham and we ended up here, but even last week we didn't know whether we were going or not.
"Me and him [Siruh Du Lac] work well together because I love that sort of heart on your sleeve type of ride; it works for me and it works for him. They don't really give me any instructions, just go out and do what you do. It's always lovely when you are riding for people who allow you to make the decisions. I wasn't going to make it - I was going to sit second behind Tom Bellamy [on Templehills], and then his folded quite easily after the first couple of fences, so I thought, 'I'll just go then'.
"I've always said with jockeys, there are so many inconsistencies in racing in terms of track, ground and so on, the one constant you can control is the jockey. I've always thought horses should have the same jockey. The fact that I know him so well, I can tell what he was thinking and was going to do. I was surprised that he quickened so well in the straight though. That was fairly impressive - to find another gear after two miles."
Williams, recording his third victory at the Festival, said: "Siruh Du Lac didn't miss a fence, but he needed to be spot-on at the last. It was a brilliant ride from Lizzie, who was really positive, and it was perfect. He was able to dictate from the front rather than have the choke out from the front, which was important.
"Siruh Du Lac's form with Janika was very, very close and it was close today. I thought they would probably finish first and second, but didn't know which order.
"The six-week gap from the last race was perfect. We thought about going to Newbury a couple of weeks ago, but he wasn't really on the top of his game and needed the extra couple of weeks.
"We don't have too bad a record here, but it has not gone according to plan all this week. Thankfully, it has today and he was obviously our best chance.