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.
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