It was a brave decision by Harry Whittington to send Saint Calvados to Naas to take on Footpad on home turf on Saturday, having been beaten so comprehensively by him in the Racing Post Arkle at Cheltenham – but what a good decision it turned out to be.
The Sparsholt trainer's front-running flagbearer had Footpad, last season's unbeaten star novice, cooked in the Grade 3 Poplar Square Chase when he took an uncharacteristic fall at the final fence.
Gavin Sheehan sent Saint Calvados to the front early and that is where he stayed, the Kate and Andrew Brooks-owned five-year-old crossing the line four-and-a-half lengths clear of Tycoon Prince.
The 4-9 favourite Footpad was in trouble jumping the second-last after a less than fluent round, having suffered an over-reach at the third fence, and he came down at the final flight. Thankfully he and Ruby Walsh were on their feet straight away.
The Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown next month, for which he was cut to 9-2 (from 8) by Paddy Power, is the winner's immediate target according to Whittington, who said: "He's actually in the King George but I think we'll leave that.
"Two miles is his trip, he has that raw pace. After Sandown I would be tempted to give him a break and maybe come back for something around February before Cheltenham, if all goes to plan."
Asked how confident he was coming here, Whittington replied: "He's only five and super exciting. He was just a raw horse last season, he's a much stronger horse now and his work had improved significantly at home.
"He's much more the finished article and he'll be even stronger next year. To do it like that in that sort of company was super, and he's a proper two-miler now."
Footpad was eased to as big as 14-1 (from around 8-1) for the King George and trainer Willie Mullins reflected: "He might have got the over-reach at that early fence and it's quite sore. For me, that's enough to stop a fluent jumper from jumping.
"When I jogged him up in the stable yard after he cooled down he was very sore. Hopefully that's the only thing which is wrong."