A PAIR of pulsating finishes to the two featured chases lit up a typically crisp winter's afternoon in Thurles that saw Texas Jack and Byerley Babe both benefit from exquisite rides to foil their respective higher-profile rivals.
On his eagerly awaited return after a two-year lay-off, Philip Fenton's former top-class novice Last Instalment suffered a first defeat over fences in the Kinloch Brae Chase.
Though ultimately beaten into third, he still emerged with plenty credit as he gave best only from the last fence after racing with understandable enthusiasm from the get-go.
Victory in the two-and-a-half-mile Grade Two went to the often frustrating Noel Meade-trained Texas Jack at odds of 4/1.
The eight-year-old has always had a touch of class, but his win ratio is poor and he hadn't scored since denying Lord Windermere, Marito, Mount Benbulben and Cootamundra in this grade as a novice at Leopardstown 12 months ago.
He went some way to shaking off his enigmatic tag against similarly lofty opposition here thanks to a Paul Carberry steer that might be described as extraordinary if it weren't so commonplace.
As Quito De La Roque, Prince De Beauchene and Baily Green took turns setting the early pace, the 39-year-old wizard waited patiently towards the rear.
When the field took the cross fences at the top of the home turn, Last Instalment, which had raced keenly in Bryan Cooper's hands, joined the issue with Baily Green.
Then, as they flew the last, Cooper's mount nosed just in front of Baily Green and Texas Jack.
Carberry, though, had timed it to a nicety. He gave Texas Jack his orders on touching down before going away to win with a little authority, as Baily Green rallied gamely to rob the tiring Last Instalment of the runner-up berth on the line.
"Paul is just different gravy on a horse like that," Meade gushed justifiably afterwards. "I think that is probably Texas Jack's trip as I'm not sure he really gets much further.
"I was annoyed that I didn't run him in the John Durkan and then he was wrong over Christmas.
"I'll discuss it with Robert (Watson, owner), but I don't think we will be taking him to Cheltenham for anything. We'll find something closer to home."
Last Instalment went off the 9/4 favourite, but Fenton was visibly delighted with the way he performed.
"It was a lovely comeback run," he said. "He was a bit fresh early on and probably needed it, but you'd have to take the positives out of it. How he is in the morning will be critical, but if he is okay, he will head for the Hennessy Gold Cup next."
Along with Last Instalment's reappearance, the presence of the Nicky Henderson-trained Une Artiste in the Grade Two Coolmore NH Sires Mares' Novice Chase helped swell the attendance at the modest north Tipperary venue.
However, the British champion trainer's first Thurles foray was thwarted by Robert Tyner's JP McManus-owned Byerley Babe.
Barry Geraghty looked to have done everything right on the 6/5 favourite when he edged past Caoimhe's Delight on the run to the last, but Philip Enright was stalking his every move.
Tyner's trusty stable jockey kept his mount together when she wandered a little after the last, eventually coaxing her home by a nose on the nod in another thrilling spectacle.
"She might have won more snugly if she didn't drift," the wily Kinsale-based handler suggested of his well-backed 3/1 shot after she claimed the €34,125 winner's purse.
"That is a nice bit of black type to get and she could go to Limerick for a similar race in March now.
"She has the class to drop back in trip, so we should have options with her."
Clondaw Court readily landed odds of 4/6 for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh in the novice hurdle, after what was a cracking spread had earlier gotten off to a fine start for punters with Kylestyle and Mount Colah both justifying good support.
Kylestyle's task was made easier when his chief market rival Roman General came out of the maiden hurdle and Francis Flood's 10/11 favourite duly scooted impressively clear for Andrew McNamara.
Jerry Cosgrave's Mount Colah had more on his plate in the beginners' chase, though his recent placed form was by far the best on offer.
When he crashed through the last fence, he handed the initiative to Katnap, but he battled back well under amateur rider Noel McParlan to regain the lead. The 6/4 favourite eventually won going away.
Cosgrave and McParlan both hail from Co Down, and the 5lb claimer secured a 26.5/1 double for his home county when driving Carstonstown Boy (10/1) to victory for Colin McBratney in the hunters' chase.
The odds-on jolly Oscar Delta blew up on his return en route to finishing third, leaving McParlan to take the day's riding honours.
The same two horses provided him with his only previous brace at Down Royal on St Stephen's Day 2011.