Unioniste stretching away from Walkon to win the Paul Stewart Gold CupPICTURE: Martin Lynch (racingpost.com/photos)
Class before age as Unioniste wins Gold Cup
Report: Cheltenham, Saturday
Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup (Grade 3) 2m5f, 4yo+
UNIONISTE proved youth combined with talent can be a potent mix, as the four-year-old novice was an impressive winner of an eventful running of the Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup.
In the colours of John Hales, who was in the winner's enclosure at the track with Al Ferof in the Paddy Power Gold Cup last month, Unioniste was having just his fourth start over fences, but from out of the handicap against a far more experienced field stamped his authority on the race at the finish.
At the third Nadiya De La Vega was the first casualty, unseating Tony McCoy, and Paul Nicholls' delight at Unioniste's victory was tempered by Cristal Bonus suffering a fatal injury having been pulled up by Ruby Walsh after the ninth.
Last year's winner Quantitativeeasing was never a factor, while Notus De La Tour was also pulled up after a mistake.
Have You Seen Me had been leading, but Tatenen was taken to the front by Andrew Thornton, and skipped clear. However, a fairytale victory for the Stewart family was quickly snuffed out as the eight-year-old hit the fourth last and dropped away.
This left Unioniste to duel with Walkon, but the younger horse had too many guns and stretched away under Harry Derham, a delightful leap at the last putting his stamp on the race. Paddy Power Gold Cup runner-up Walkon was second again, with Golden Chieftan staying on for third.
Winning trainer Nicholls said: "It was a great run behind two great horses the last day and when I saw he had a mark of 137 it was a bit of a gift. Getting 5lb off him as well we got near the handicap mark. These are the days I have nurtured Harry [Derham] for. He gave him a peach of a ride. You wouldn't chuck any four year old in a race like that but he's an ultimate professional."
Max McNeill, owner of the gallant Walkon, was pleased with the grey's effort. He said: : "If someone had said at the start of the season that we would finish second in the two big Cheltenham handicaps we would have taken it but it's a bit disappointing as turning for home I thought we had the winner's measure.
Paddy Power introduced Unioniste to their RSA market at 20-1.
Also on Saturday:
Osborne House Relkeel Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m4½f, 4yo+
OSCAR WHISKY made light work of his two rivals for a second consecutive win in the Relkeel Hurdle.