Saunter Boy has redeemed himself for last year's defeat in the Galleywood Hurdle with a tough victory under top weight at Warrnambool.
The Ciaron Maher & David Eustace -trained hurdler finished fourth as the $2.10 favourite in last year's 3200m feature hurdle of the Warrnambool Three-Day Carnival.
But this time around in a battle of wills up the Warrnambool straight on Wednesday, Saunter Boy, the $2 favourite, under Steven Pateman, scored a long neck victory over St Arnicca ($8.50) with Out And Dreaming ($4) a short-neck away third.
And the large crowd that returned to Warrnambool after two years of COVID, were roaring their approval of a competitive contest.
Maher was left flat after Saunter Boy was defeated in last year's Galleywood but said the horse was invigorated by a recent spate of good flat form.
Saunter Boy made a return to jumping with a narrow win at Pakenham on April 18 and despite the 1kg rise in weight was able to carry that over to victory on Wednesday.
"His flat form improved and he's just an invigorated horse," Maher said.
"I was keen on him winning this race last year, I thought he had a great chance, but it is great that he's come back.
"Steve Pateman, he's very understated. He's very modest but he's an elite rider.
"He's a great mate of mine but he had to pull out all his ability to get that horse over the line."
With Annunciate leading the way for the 2200m of the race, the pressure went on 1000m from home.
The three placegetters stepped up the pressure at the 800m and singled out over the final jump before staging their home straight battle.
Pateman was concerned the 70.5kg may take its toll while also wondering if Will Gordon on the runner-up may be a fitter.
"Those horses need to wind up with that weight and then in the straight I thought 'Will Gordon, he rides them on the flat and if he beats me, they'll be saying that he's fitter than me!".
"But he's such a class horse. I've said it before, but it is amazing how these top horses love a scrap, so you've just got to be in there with them.
"How good is this!"