Blazing Bailey rocketed back into the Ladbrokes World Hurdle picture by turning the Steel Plate And Sections Hurdle into a one-sided affair at Cheltenham's New Year meeting.
Alan King's charge has displayed a trait of improving from race to race as the season goes on, and this represented a further step up on his latest creditable fourth behind Inglis Drever at Newbury.
Robert Thornton played his cards in the home straight, at which point Black Jack Ketchum had been pulled up, while Afsoun was under pressure and Tony McCoy was finding it hard work getting Wichita Lineman close enough to challenge.
Landing running over the last, Blazing Bailey (11-2) skipped eight lengths clear of the latter, with long-time leader Gaspara another length behind.
King was not surprised and said: "There was the question of whether he'd be sharp enough for two-and-a-half miles, but I was delighted with the way he stayed on. He'll come back here for the Cleeve Hurdle at the end of the month, then the World Hurdle at the Festival."
Ladbrokes cut Blazing Bailey to 6-1 from 14s for the stayers' championship, while Paddy Power, VC Bet and Stan James go 6-1 from 12s. Blue Square offer a standout 7-1 (from 14s).
Jonjo O'Neill was satisfied with Wichita Lineman's run but perplexed by that of Black Jack Ketchum. The trainer said: "Wichita is lazy and is getting worse, but he ran well and we might bring him back for the Cleeve. Black Jack seems to have lost his way totally and there is obviously something wrong with him."
Earlier, King recorded the 500th success of his relatively brief career when 4-1 chance Oh Crick won the Club 16-24 Annual Big Bash "National Hunt" Novices' Handicap Hurdle.
McCoy rode his 150th Cheltenham winner when galvanising 10-1 shot Hills Of Aran to a three-length defeat on Hennessy in the Unicoin Homes Handicap Hurdle. Trainer Keith Goldsworthy said: "This horse is better going right-handed but the dead ground, strong pace and of course Tony, all helped."
Gold Cup hope Star De Mohaison remains a general 20-1 chance for the blue riband despite finishing a distant third under Ruby Walsh. Trainer Paul Nicholls said: "That's the first time he's seen a blade of grass this season and Ruby thinks he'll improve a ton for the outing.." n Lodge Lane maintained his unblemished record over timber when winning the Thurlestone Hotel "National Hunt" Novices' Hurdle at Exeter.
Victor Dartnall's seven-year-old looked set to play a leading role in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham last March before hanging badly as the home turn loomed. A return visit to the Festival meeting, this time, for the Brit Insurance Novices' Hurdle, is on the cards. ..SUPL: