Business goes bust.
West Country-based Nicholls was stunned as his runner, See More Business, was sensationally carried out at the seventh fence by champion jockey Tony McCoy on the injured Cyborgo.
Cyborgo was in sixth place, with See More Business behind him, and wider on the track, when McCoy felt his mount lose it's action.
He pulled Cyborgo wide of the fence but, in so doing, took another Martin Pipe-trained runner, Indian Tracker and See More Business with him.
As the race continued, 25-1 outsider Cool Dawn, ridden by Andrew Thornton, gave his remaining rivals a jumping lesson to beat Strong Promise by a length-and-three-quarters. Favourite Dorans Pride was a head further back in third.
But it was the incident at the top of the hill which was the talking point, especially with the memory of last January's bust-up between McCoy and Nicholls still fresh in the mind.
The pair, who had enjoyed great success together up to that point, fell out over McCoy's decision to ride Cyborgo in a novice chase at Newton Abbot, rather than the Nicholls runner Flaked Oats.
McCoy did ride Belmont King to win the Scottish National at Ayr last April for Nicholls, but has hardly ridden for the former jockey this season.
A shocked Nicholls couldn't speak for an hour after the race and stunned jockey, Timmy Murphy, could hardly believe what had happened to him: "I thought this was going to be my greatest day. You are prepared to lose, but not like that.
"I know Tony was trying to do what was right for the horse, but he could have shouted a warning," said the downcast jockey.
McCoy defended his action saying: "There was no way I could jump an open ditch with the horse in that state. It was the only thing I could do."
Nicholls later calmed down enough to talk: "To say I'm gutted is an understatement. I just don't want to say any more."
The stewards held an inquiry after the race and exonerated McCoy from any blame.
If the Nicholls' camp was shattered, there was nothing but glee at the Dorset base of Robert Alner, a former point-to-point star who has transformed Cool Dawn from hunter into a Gold Cup hero.
And Jockey Thornton's incredible season had reached an unbelievable pinnacle following the King George VI Chase win on See More Business and Wednesday's victory romp on French Holly.
Riding with all the confidence of a man in the form of his life, Thornton threw his mount at fence after fence before galvanising Cool Dawn after Strong Promise had headed him at the final jump.
Dorans Pride would have been closer but for a mistake three out.
"If you'd asked me before the race I'd rather have been on See More Business," he grinned.
"I tried to look like a jockey when I first came down south. I was riding too short and I kept falling off. Luckily my girlfriend, Gill Richardson, and my father made me see sense and riding longer has done the trick."
Alner isn't afraid of a bit of graft. He drove the horsebox to Cheltenham and will be doing the same from Dorchester to Folkestone today.
"I can't afford a box driver," he joked.
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|Publication:||The Mirror (London, England)|
|Date:||Mar 20, 1998|
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