Minella Forfitness got up in the last stride to deny Cheltenian a winning comeback in the SIG Insulation EBF "National Hunt" Novices' Hurdle at Doncaster.
The 9-4 favourite was only third over the final flight, but responded to Barry Geraghty's urgings on the drive to the line to strike by a short head.
"He ran a bit with the choke out so I had to wait until he filled up again. I think he's suited by further. It was only after the last when I felt I had a chance. He's more of a horse for next year," said Geraghty.
While disappointed at the agonising defeat, trainer Philip Hobbs was delighted with Cheltenian, who was having his first run since winning the Weatherbys Champion Bumper in March 2011.
"He's run fantastic, but it's frustrating that he just got beat. We'll have to see how he is in the couple of weeks. Hopefully he'll go to Cheltenham but he's only had this one run in the last two years," he said.
"He's in the two-mile (Supreme) and the two-mile-five (Neptune Investment Management). We'll have to see what the ground's like but he looks to have plenty of pace for two (miles)."
Geraghty was completing a double for the Henderson team, begun by Otto The Great (5-2) in the 32Red Novices' Chase. Given plenty of room out wide by Barry Geraghty to have a good look at the obstacles, the Nicky Henderson-trained grey put in an assured display to dispense of three rivals.
"He jumped brilliantly. We just got racing a bit early in the straight and galloped into the fourth-last. Apart from that he was foot perfect. He didn't win over hurdles but had some great runs. He disappointed at Newbury, but we always knew he would take to fences," said Geraghty.
Hobbs and jockey Richard Johnson gained some compensation for Cheltenian's defeat when Doctor Foxtrot (20-1) overcame a 518-day absence to win the SIS Live Handicap Hurdle and deny Geraghty, on the length-and-a-quarter runner-up Mister Dillon, a treble.
Tom O'Brien will miss the Cheltenham Festival after he was hit with a 10-day suspension in Minella Forfitness' race. O'Brien was found guilty of "failing to take all reasonable and permissible measures to obtain the best possible placing" aboard Benefit Cut, who finished seventh.
18 December 2014Power plan uncertain for Westener
Kauto pleases in Olympia display
Mullins eyes twin assault on Lexus
Value oozes class in Newbury romp
Annie Power on road to recovery
Spencer strikes after U-turn
Vautour ready for next jumps test
Mullins banks on Faugheen progress
Victory set to skip Ladbroke
Mullins: Fever can go the distance
17 December 2014Sidelined Brian misses Whittle
Sceaux to sidestep Haydock raid
Square season derailed by injury
Lexus a non-starter for Clouds
Europe return hinges on ground
Injury woe for Cookson
Plans on hold for Topper
Appeal success for Russell/Enright
Mulholland makes Master plan
Cango makes Catterick impression
Field sizes under BHA microscope
Quinn outlines Aurore options
Legal laying down the law at Ludlow
Ground dictates Attaglance plans
King heartened by Walkon return
Cross set Christmas conundrum
16 December 2014Pipe bowled over by Palace
Cole to duck Leopardstown mission
Pipe bowled over by Palace
Arbuthnot has Starluck options
Geraghty taken with weekend Heroes
Moore the merrier at Plumpton
Estrella back with a bang
Options fluid for Hargam
Lough set for Lexus workout
Sceaux in Haydock frame
Victoire at Ladbroke summit
Five left in Long Walk
15 December 2014Hannon has trio lined up for Dubai
Sherwood sweats on Power Welsh bid
Puffin angling for Ascot return
Kauto takes the plunge at Olympia
River looks swell for Theatre
Ginge team ponder Plate target
View sights fixed on Kempton prize
Sole to stick to trusted routine
Spencer in retirement U-turn
Elliott keen to play waiting game
Pineau pulled up at Carlisle
Heroes steps up in thriller
Estrella returns at Wolves
New camp delay Christmas call
Not a bother on Berlais
Farraaj sixth in Hong Kong Cup
Flintshire comes good in Vase