Defi Du Seuil justified his position as the long-time leader in the JCB Triumph Hurdle market by winning by a comfortable five lengths at Cheltenham on Friday. He started the well-backed 5/2 favourite.
Ridden by champion jockey Richard Johnson, for whom it was a second Festival winner of the week, the French-bred gelding is owned by J P McManus and trained by Philip Hobbs, who has two previous JCB Triumph Hurdle winners to his credit in Detroit City and Made In Japan.
An emotional Hobbs explained his reddened eyes, saying: "It's the relief! He's been favourite all year and it's great when it goes right. He's such a fantastic horse. He has always jumped well - there have been one or two little hiccups, particularly at Chepstow when he won there, but his jumping overall is mustard.
"He's never run on good ground so it was an unknown and therefore a bit of a concern, but there was no reason why it shouldn't have suited him. He's run six times for us and won each time easily."
Hobbs' wife Sarah said: "I'm shaking. It's so exciting. J P [McManus] has been brilliant, and this horse is amazing. He tries, he wants to do it - he loves it. He's so bonny."
Asked whether Defi Du Seuil would attempt to emulate Hobbs' 2003 Stan James Champion Hurdle winner Rooster Booster in 2018, he replied: "He could run in the Arkle or the Champion Hurdle next year. He could do either. I haven't schooled him over fences but it wouldn't be a problem.
"You shouldn't get too bullish too early, but he has a fantastic attitude and is very sound. He's got fantastic ability, so he has everything going for him."
Defi Du Seuil on his way to winning the 2017 JCB Triumph Hurdle, picture Mike Egerton/PA Wire/PA Images
Defi Du Seuil's success was a third JCB Triumph Hurdle win for the jockey-trainer combination of Richard Johnson and Philip Hobbs, following Detroit City's victory in 2006 and Made In Japan in 2004.
Johnson said: "He was the best horse in the race and he jumped and travelled. He was always going well and I was always happy with him. I knew he'd stay and that I could pick him up as I wished. I was a passenger all the way to be honest.
"On the better ground there were a few negatives with people suggesting he wouldn't be good enough, but he has just improved all year.
"I cannot believe this is the same horse I rode at Ffos Las four or five months ago. All credit to Philip. He has campaigned him so smoothly through the year.
"He is an honour to ride. He travelled so easy and jumped so well that I was trying not to be on my own for too long. He jumped two out so well and it is a dream to travel that well after two out in a race around here.
"He shocked me at Christmas with how much pure speed and class he has. Christmas was my fault completely and I apologised to Mr McManus afterwards. I was worried the leader was going to get first run on me, so I squeezed him and lit him up and got there too soon on bad ground.
"I spoke to Barry this morning. He told me exactly how to ride him. That would have been hard for him to watch, but hopefully Barry will be back for Aintree and this horse is one he can look forward to riding."
Asked whether Defi Du Seuil might be a Stan James Champion Hurdle horse, Johnson said: "I don't know. It is hard with juveniles, but he has done everything he has ever been asked. He is not a typical ex-Flat horse and I think he will improve with time."
Johnson also reported that the ground to be "on the slow side of good."
The Gordon Elliott-trained 7/1 shot Mega Fortune finished an excellent five length second.
Always prominent under Davy Russell, Elliott's charge was no match for the runaway winner but battled on gamely up the Cheltenham hill to fend off the challenge of Willie Mullins' Bapaume (10/1), who was a short-head behind in third.
Russell said: "It was a great run by Mega Fortune. We were beaten by the best horse in the race but he's ran a really well. He was excellent with his jumping, he jumped well from hurdle to hurdle."
Rich Ricci, owner of the third-placed Bapaume, commented: "He ran a stormer. That was the Irish form really I think as those are the best two Irish novices I'd say.
"He did peck at the last so we might have finished second but we weren't going to catch the winner so yeah I'm delighted with that - it's good!
"Hopefully, it will be onwards and upwards but they went some gallop!
"He jumped brilliantly throughout except for the last but hopefully he will get bigger and stronger so he's a nice type. We're delighted with that."
Rachel Blackmore, rider of fourth-placed Ex Patriot was delighted the four-year-old's run after she was unseated from the gelding going to the start and ran loose before being caught. She said: "It was a really good run. It was fantastic to be a part of and everyone's happy.
"It didn't really go the way I wanted but he finished well.
"He only cantered himself away at the start so I don't think that made too much of a difference to his run today.
"It was brilliant to ride in the race - it was a great experience."
1.30pm JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1)
1 DEFI DU SEUIL (J P McManus) Philip Hobbs 4-11-00 Richard Johnson 5/2 Fav
2 Mega Fortune (Chris Jones) Gordon Elliott IRE 4-11-00 Davy Russell 7/1
3 Bapaume (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 4-11-00 Ruby Walsh 10/1
Distances: 5, sh
Tote Win: £3.30 Places: £1.70, £2.50, £3.00 Exacta: £28.60
Philip Hobbs - 19th winner at The Festival
Richard Johnson - 22nd winners at The Festival