Politologue comes out on top as he and Min serve up thriller
At the start of the season Paul Nicholls nominated Politologue as a potential Grade 1 star capable of filling the gap left by Kauto Star, Master Minded, Denman and Big Buck's within a yard in a transitional phase.
The grey made an early start with wins in the Haldon Gold Cup, Tingle Creek and Desert Orchid Chase but he was no match for champion Altior in clashes at Newbury and Cheltenham.
Yet when very much an underdog in a contest believed to be between Champion Chase runner-up Min and Ryanair Chase winner Balko Des Flos, Politologue bit back.
Running in a hood, first time tongue tie and allowed to lead the parade so he could go out first, he was a wholly different beast to the horse beaten 23 lengths at Cheltenham.
Once Balko Des Flos's effort from the front petered out Min and Politologue had the race between them. Min took the last narrowly in front but Politologue, under a power-packed ride from Sam Twiston-Davies, matched him blow for blow eventually edging a duel decided by a neck on the line.
Having come down when stumbling after jumping the last fence in front in last year's Maghull Novices' Chase it was more than connections could hope for 20 years after owner John Hales lost another grey One Man in the same race.
"That was brilliant," said Nicholls. "He jumped and stayed on really strongly. He wanted two and a half. He blew his brains at Cheltenham so we had the hood on today and I think a flat track suits him.
"It was a great ride from Sam. We put a tongue-tie on today because I kept thinking that every time he gets to the last fence travelling and then finds nothing. You can't fault the performance."
Hales has had a Grand National triumph with Neptune Collonges to help him get over the death of One Man following a fall at the ninth fence, but the pain was still apparent.
"Twenty years ago I lost One Man and Politologue has paid me back," he said. "It was a brilliant performance. He was totally relaxed today, a totally different horse to Cheltenham. Paul was absolutely right putting the head cover back on and he was totally switched off. I felt at Cheltenham he probably lost the race in the parade ring."
The successful step up to 2m4f could tempt connections towards a tilt at next season's 32Red King George VI Chase, in which nine times winning trainer Nicholls had no representative last year.
"He is more relaxed and he is actually staying," said Nicholls. "We always thought he would be a King George horse one day and it's just possible he might end up getting three miles.
"Every time he gets to the bottom of that hill at Cheltenham he doesn't finish. I don't think Cheltenham suits him. He's been there four times and not won. He loves tracks like this, Kempton, Sandown and Exeter."
Min also had something to prove at the distance at the very top level and was not beaten by lack of stamina.
"It was a good run and he did everything right - I think it was the running rail that made the difference," said trainer Willie Mullins.
"The other fellow had it all the way up the straight, and I think it was crucial in the final furlong, but I have no excuses. I think he stayed as well as the winner.
"He's been running over two miles and it's very hard for some horses to adjust, but it was the same for the winner. He'll hopefully go to Punchestown."
Jockey Paul Townend said: "Up the that trip he was keen enough early on and I think we were probably outstayed in the end, but he's run his race and I'm just disappointed at being runner-up on him again."
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