THE Cheltenham Gold Cup is starting to look an ever more realistic goal for Flemenstar after last season's star novice made an impressive return to action in the Irish Form Book Fortria Chase at Navan.
Already this season, there has been renewed hope that an Irish horse can end the country's seven-year wait for the blue riband of steeplechasing, and Peter Casey's stable star is shaping up into the lead challenger.
Coming back to two miles on his first run since early April, Flemenstar was sent straight to the lead by Andrew Lynch and produced some brilliant leaps to maintain control of the race.
The 10/11 favourite was tracked into the straight by Foildubh and Big Zeb, but Flemenstar saw them off with ease, beating Big Zeb by a comfortable seven lengths.
Although the winner has yet to race over more than two-and-a-half miles, Coral make him 7/1 from 9/1 for the Gold Cup and Casey insists there's more improvement to come.
"When he is fit he'll be a good one! He will go for the John Durkan now at Punchestown (December 9)," the Co Meath-based trainer explained.
"He has got stronger since last year but he was only 80pc fit today. He got beat here the last two years but I slept well last night, I wasn't worried about him.
"After he goes over two-and-a-half in the Durkan we will think about running him over three miles. He should get three miles on breeding."
Victory in the feature race was the second leg of a double for Lynch after he earlier struck on Henry de Bromhead's 4/5 favourite Sizing Rio in the Grade Three 'For Auction' Novice Hurdle.
"That was good and I'm delighted with it. Andrew said that he was a bit hard to get around the bends in front," said De Bromhead. "We will give him a break now and probably bring him back for Leopardstown at Christmas."
However, Lynch came off second best in the Lismullen Hurdle when he and 1/7 favourite Voler La Vedette were upstaged by 25/1 outsider Whatuthink.
Colm Murphy's top-class mare was bidding for back-to-back wins in the Grade Two but failed to reel in the game front-runner which was given a copybook ride by Tom Doyle. "He loves that ground and he kept going," said winning trainer Oliver McKiernan. "He will go to Leopardstown now at Christmas and he might run before then."
Also in double form was jockey Bryan Cooper, first partnering 8/13 favourite Our Conor to land the opening juvenile hurdle and then following up on Jimmy Finn's Ballyfinboy which landed a nice touch to make all in the staying handicap hurdle.
Our Conor was particularly impressive on his jumping debut for the in-form Dessie Hughes who said: "He can jump. He handles heavy ground and I suppose it will be Christmas next for him."
Noel Meade's Dylan Ross made it third time lucky over fences with a smooth victory in the beginners' chase under Paul Carberry and his trainer is now likely to send him to Leopardstown on St Stephen's Day.
Ted Walsh's Champagne James made an impressive debut in the hands of Robbie McNamara, edging out previous point-to-point winner Blackmail with a decent turn of foot.
"He is a nice horse and is a full-brother to Rory O'Moore," said Walsh. "We were going to go point-to-pointing with him but he was showing up well -- he's one for the future."