Conti has a golden glow
Paul Nicholls has tipped Silviniaco Conti for Cheltenham Gold Cup success after the 15-8 favourite provided the Somerset handler with a record ninth success in the King George VI Chase at Kempton yesterday.
Following up his triumph in the 2013 renewal, Noel Fehily's mount made every yard of the running to score by four and a half lengths and five from Dynaste and stablemate Al Ferof.
Nicholls and Fehily pulled off a carefully constructed plan to make best use of their charge's stamina and improved concentration gained from the application of a pair of cheekpieces.
The eight-year-old was cut into 5-2 favourite (from 6-1) for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March by Ladbrokes, while Hills make the Ditcheat gelding 4-1, a price shared by Paddy Power.
The combination never looked like being reeled in, as Dynaste stayed on strongly for second.
Nicholls said: "It's all a bit surreal. Things weren't going well but Conti got us out of trouble.
"He jumps and he gallops and we kept it simple. I knew he would gallop and stay and we decided to make it a proper test of stamina. The cheekpieces have helped him, he can be a bit lazy. They have really woken him up."
Nicholls compared Silvianaco Conti to one of his previous King George victors, See More Business.
He said: "See More Business won the King George twice and went on to win a Gold Cup and I hope this fellow can go on and put the big one on his CV.
"When he jumped the last in front I was astounded he didn't go on and win last season's Gold Cup, but then after Aintree we found he had gastric ulcers," said Nicholls.
"I felt he needed the cheekpieces to help him concentrate and they have made a huge difference.
"He jumped soundly and only got tight to the one down the far side. Otherwise he was foot-perfect," he said.
"Whether he runs again before Cheltenham is very much undecided, but all he does is stay and the Gold Cup is his number one target.
"Longer term I would love to see him come back here and give us the magic 10 King George wins.
"I can't believe how lucky we've been to do so well in this race and I have to again give credit to my head lad Clifford Baker."
Faugheen is clear favourite for the Champion Hurdle after winning the Christmas Hurdle.