Sizing Europe might have been the A-list equine star in attendance at Leopardstown, but there was little doubt it was a stunning performance by Jezki in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle that stole the show.
In the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase, former champion chaser Sizing Europe toughed out a brave two-and-a-half-length victory over Rubi Light at 1/3 for Andrew Lynch. Given the conditions, it was an admirably gritty display that had little perceptible impact on the Cheltenham Festival ante-post markets.
That was in stark contrast to what happened after the Jessica Harrington-trained Jezki plundered its second Grade One of the month with a superlative burst of speed in the novice hurdle. Sent off the 11/8 favourite following his triumph in the Royal Bond equivalent under Barry Geraghty at Fairyhouse, the four-year-old stormed six lengths clear of Waaheb on soft ground that his trainer maintains is far from ideal.
It was a brilliantly fluent effort that confirmed his status as the leading two-mile novice in the country and saw him thrust to the head of the betting for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. The day's title sponsor slashed Jezki, unbeaten in three at the Foxrock venue, to 6/1 favourite from 10/1 for the Festival opener. "I just hope we can get him there, because it's a long time between now and March," his thrilled Moone handler admitted afterwards.
"I don't know if we'll bring him back here for the Deloitte Hurdle (on February 9) or go straight to Cheltenham. We'll just play it by ear, but I'm delighted with that. Robbie (Power) said that they went so quick early on he was off the bridle a bit, but he came back on it down the back and he was even able to take a pull going to the last."
The AP McCoy-ridden Waaheb kept going to finish second, while Bright New Dawn was a commendable third after racing close to the lively gallop that was set by Sizing Rio.
Later on, McCoy was at his assured best in steering the gambled-on Colbert Station to a fantastic coup in the Paddy Power Chase. The Antrim man had the choice of seven JP McManus-owned runners in the valuable handicap, and those that took the hint following his decision to partner Ted Walsh's charge were duly rewarded.
Rathlin and Glenquest cut out much of the early running. However, on just its fifth start over fences, it was Colbert Station, backed from 7/1 into 5/1 favouritism, that emerged to lead between the last two fences, before galloping five and a half lengths clear of Romanesco and Last Time D'Albain to claim the €106,800 prize.
Asked if he had tried to sway McCoy's decision, Walsh quipped: "I never spoke to AP – he talked to Ruby. Ruby was trying to put him off 'cause he was anxious to ride him. He didn't buy it anyway! I thought he had an each-way chance, but no more. He might be an English National horse yet."
For his part, McCoy, winning the race for a first time, added: "Credit must go to Frank Berry (McManus' racing manager), he was adamant I ride this one."
After Sizing Europe's win in the day's first Grade One, Henry de Bromhead said: "It was workmanlike, but I'm delighted. He was a bit slow at his fences and I slagged Andrew for not going faster early on, but he got the job done."
The Waterford handler stated that plans remain fluid for the 10-year-old, and that he would probably be entered in each of the three showpiece Grade Ones at Cheltenham.
Mags Mullins and her son Danny bagged their second and third winners of the festival when Mumbo Jumbo and Cairdin (12/1) combined to secure a 21/1 double. Mumbo Jumbo had to work hard to overcome Celtic Cailin and justify its position as the 4/6 market leader in the maiden hurdle, but Cairdin, sporting first-time blinkers, made most of the running to land the handicap hurdle in more comfortable fashion.
"The blinkers had the desired effect," Mullins reported. "I don't think he is dishonest, but he was a terrible horse for looking all round him and they helped him concentrate. We will consider bringing him back here for the Boylesports Hurdle in January."
Gordon Elliott and Davy Condon took the opening juvenile hurdle with jumping debutant Flaxing Flare (11/1), while Elliott's fellow Meath handler Noel Meade and Nina Carberry bagged the bumper with Mullaghanoe River at 9/2. On a crisp, clear day, attendance fell 8pc to 15,130, with bookmakers' turnover down 24pc to €997,495.