North Hill Harvey, who won the Unibet Greatwood Hurdle on this day last year, laid down his challenge for the Racing Post Arkle Trophy at The Festival in March by winning the two-mile Racing Post Arkle Trophy Trial Novices' Chase by 18 lengths from the evens favourite, River Wylde.
North Hill Harvey and Harry Skelton clears the last, photo Liesl King
The six-year-old British-bred son of Kayf Tara is trained by Dan Skelton and ridden by Harry Skelton. He was sent off at odds of 6/4.
Skelton said: "He was great here at the track in October [he won a novices' chase at The Showcase Meeting last month] and I did think, jumping the last that day, that Sceau Royal had us beaten. He showed a great attitude up the hill to win that fight. He's jumped great today and Harry's given him a lovely ride - very sensible - and I think it helped us having Ozzie The Oscar [eventual third] there.
"Obviously all roads will lead to the Arkle. I don't quite know what route to take; he looked a fresh horse jumping the last, but it was a long way up that hill. I won't be rushing back and running him in two weeks. I'll work backwards from the Arkle."
When it was pointed out that last year North Hill Harvey went straight from the Unibet Greatwood Hurdle to the Randox Health County Hurdle at The Festival, Skelton replied: "Big mistake - we won't be doing that again. He loves to run - he grows a hand and has an opinion at the racecourse. At home, he's a team member, he does his graft, goes back in, eats his food, he's never a complainer in that respect, but at the same time he would never stand out.
"I remember ringing Richard [Kelvin-Hughes, part-owner] when we first got him after winning and English point-to-point, and saying that that might be where his future lies. He did nothing, and it wasn't until I jumped him that first year that I thought, 'Oh, hang on'. He's got better and better through his hurdling career, now chasing - he's just got stronger and better. I hope he's a contender come March.
"I just want to see how he comes out of this. I've got the owners' other horse, Born Survivor, who might be a contender for the Henry VIII Novices' Chase [at Sandown in December] and it might be that we have to prioritise one or the other on that day, but afterwards we will give him some runs. He thrives on it. I'd love it to rain heavily on the Sunday and Monday before The Festival!
North Hill Harvey may well be the best two-mile novice chaser in Britain at this present time, but he was schooling over jumps at Dan Skelton's yard this morning.
Practice makes perfect, and he jumped impressively when winning this afternoon's Racing Post Arkle Trophy Trial Novices' Chase at Cheltenham. Given that the six-year-old jumped well enough to win his first and only point-to-point - a three-mile race at Chaddesley Corbett in Worcestershire in 2015 - and he has not fallen in 10 starts for Skelton, why did the trainer feel some schooling - with the attendant risks - was necessary on the morning of today's assignment?
It should be borne in mind that Skelton is the eldest son of legendary showjumper Nick Skelton, a multiple champion and Olympic Gold Medal winner.
Skelton said: "We schooled him yesterday, and he jumped well apart from one that he banked. Fearing his confidence might be a little low we thought we would double check and school him again this morning.
"It was definitely the right thing to do, but all our first-timers are jumped on the morning of a race. If they are going to Sedgefield there might not be time before they set off, but if they are going within reasonable distance then we give them a jump.
"This horse jumped two hurdles and two fences this morning. One of my very first good novice chasers was Value At Risk, who we ran at Newbury and he fell. Dad said, 'Right, that's it, all the novices are schooling on the morning of their run.
"I'm not arguing with him when it comes to jumping!"
Bookmakers shortened North Hill Harvey for the Racing Post Arkle Trophy Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March. Betway offer 12/1, he is now 14/1 with Coral and Labrokes and 16/1 with Paddy Power.
Harry Skelton returns on North Hill Harvey, photo Liesl King
Winning jockey Skelton said: "North Hill Harvey gave me a little bit of a fright yesterday on the schooling ground as we always school our novices the day before to get their eye in and he overstretched at one.
"It was a little novicey mistake, but it's a good job I have gold medal-winning dad, as he said 'you get him out there this morning and give him a pop over a few hurdles' to get his eye in.
"North Hill Harvey was magic today. He is a little bit brave and was going to run well in the Supreme here behind Altior but made a hell of a mistake at the second last.
"He is a proper track horse who doesn't show much at home but he is a very good horse and I felt he jumped really well today.
"He comes alive on the track and it's nice to have him. I've ridden some nice horses over the years and he is up there.
"We had an unbelievable summer and it is nice to have a proper horse to go to war with.
"He looks a bit special, so let's wrap him up in cotton wool and get him ready for March."
North Hill Harvey, photo Liesl King
1.50pm Racing Post Arkle Trophy Trial Noivices' Chase (Grade 2)
1 NORTH HILL HARVEY (Mrs G Widdowson & Lizzie Kelvin-Hughes) 6-11-05 Harry Skelton 6/4
2 River Wylde (Grech & Parkin) Nicky Henderson 6-11-02 Nico De Boinville Evens Fav
3 Ozzie The Oscar (Bradley Partnership) Philip Hobbs 6-11-02 Richard Johnson 5/1
Distances: 18, 1¼
Tote Win: £2.30 Exacta: £3.10