Despite a last-flight blunder, Identity Thief finished strongly and provided trainer Henry De Bromhead with the Grade One Fighting Fifth Hurdle on his first ever visit to Newcastle.
The five-year-old ridden by Bryan Cooper, who was supplemented for the race by owners Gigginstown Stud, provided Ireland with their first win in the race since Go Native landed the spoils back in 2009.
Identity Thief and Top Notch shared the lead throughout the contest and after a slow jump at the last, Nicky Henderson’s charge looked the likeliest winner, but Cooper’s mount responded to his urgings to lead where it mattered most to win by a neck.
De Bromhead was delighted with his progressive hurdler, saying: “He did it really well and it was a super ride from Bryan.
“We’ve always liked him. It’s our first visit to Newcastle and it’s great to come over here and win a Grade One with him.”
Last season’s Triumph Hurdle runner-up Top Notch stole a three-length lead four out, but Identity Thief was ridden with extreme confidence and always looked to have Daryl Jacob’s move covered.
In what was a race to savour, the two leaders had a ding-dong battle up the home straight, but as they fought to the line it was always Cooper’s gelding who looked to be getting on top.
Turning into the straight, Wicklow Brave looked a big danger as he ranged up alongside the eventual first and second, but the 2/1 joint-favourite struggled to get home in the conditions and finished a labouring third.
The disappointment was Irving. He was bidding to become the sixth multi-winner of the race, but after not travelling with his usual zest and a poor mistake four-out, the Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old could only finish as close as sixth.