Charlie Hills saw his concerns over running Afaak on soft ground brushed aside after he went one place better than 12 months ago in the Royal Hunt Cup at Ascot on Wednesday.
Having filled the runner-up spot behind David Marnane's Settle For Bay in the race last year, the Oasis Dream gelding overcame a 263-day absence to make a winning return in the mile contest.
Despite being pressed hard late on by the David Barron-trained Clon Coulis, the 20-1 winner stuck his neck out in game fashion to hang on by a nose as the pair flashed by the line almost together.
Hills said: “I wanted to give him a run a couple of weeks ago, but he just didn’t look right really.
“He was gelded over the winter and never really thrived at all. As you saw there he is still quite wintry in his coat, so we were never completely happy with him. He would do a couple of nice pieces of work, then the next time you worked him he didn’t look so good.”
The trainer continued: “We knew he had the ability to run a big race, as he has run off higher marks than he has today, which was in our favour and he had course and distance form as well. His well-being was a question mark.
“I didn’t think he would handle it (ground) and I did ask the question should we take him out, but we trained him for the race and we were here.”
He added: “Angus (Gold, racing manager for Sheikh Hamdan) and I have thought a mile and a quarter could be in his compass, so that is why we rode him pretty handy.
“We could look at the John Smith’s Cup as he has an entry in it. He has won at York as well.”