The Worlds End regained the lead close home to land a dramatic victory in the Grade One Marsh Hurdle at Ascot.
L’Ami Serge looked as though he would make a winning comeback after 580 days off the track when he headed The Worlds End between the last two flights.
Tom George’s charge had led to that point, but a slow jump at that obstacle let in L’Ami Serge, who set sail for home in the extended three-mile showpiece, registered as the Long Walk Hurdle.
Switched by Adrian Heskin towards the centre of the course, The Worlds End (15-8 favourite) would not give up and managed to reel in the winner to score by two and three-quarter lengths.
It was a second Grade One triumph for The Worlds End and paid a compliment to Paisley Park, who had beaten him in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury last month.
The late withdrawal of Paisley Park due to the ground robbed the race of its star attraction, with Tobefair also an absentee, which left just four runners.
The Worlds End was cut to 2-1 from 25-1 with Betfair and Paddy Power for the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
George said: “They steadied it up at the halfway stage to get a bit of company and Adrian said he was in front long enough. But once he asked, he said there was plenty there and he picked up really nicely.
“Once I saw him pick up, I thought he would be OK, but I didn’t feel very confident going to the last. Far from it. I thought, ‘second again’, but we would have been happy with that at this stage.
“I think we have had about 14 Grade Ones now – we didn’t have one last year, but we had three the season before. They are hard to come by and you’ve got to train them like Grade One horses and hope it all falls your way on the day, which it has.
“We will enjoy this before making a decision on where we go next.”
He went on: “I’m delighted. He had a lot of problems towards the second part of last season, which we have sorted out over the summer. The runner-up I watched more than ours, and he has run a hell of a race, as he was very keen the whole way and probably just didn’t see out the trip.
“Maybe if someone had given us a lead, we would have found it easier as well. But at the end of the day we’re happy with the way it has gone. He can go over fences one day, but for now we will stick with what we’ve got.
“The other thing we might consider, later on in the year, is he might love Auteuil now he copes with the soft ground. That is something we will talk about in the spring.”
Heskin said: “It is great to get a Grade One under his belt, because he is a very good horse. I know that might not have been the strongest of renewals, but he was due one.
“He did everything well during the race, but when he got passed by L’Ami Serge, he was never for beating. The second I got stuck into him he was always picking up. He just kept finding and is just a dour stayer.
“Tom has done a great job with him and the two girls who look after him, Charlie and Sarah. He takes plenty of minding and goes to a spa a couple of times of week and it’s great to get him back on track.”
He added: “It is fantastic to win a Grade One in these colours. I’m very lucky to be riding for the McNeill family. I’ve had a tough couple of years with injuries and things and they’ve stuck by me and it’s great that I’m able to repay them.
“I think this is the tip of the iceberg for them, as they have a great bunch of horses and I hope they are very successful.”