DERMOT Weld's decision to make Moyglare Stud's first runner over hurdles Unaccompanied was given further justification yesterday as the four-year-old filly claimed the Istabraq Festival Hurdle on the final day of Leopardstown.
Not that the decision ever needed justification, as last season she went to Cheltenham running a massive race in the Triumph Hurdle when runner-up, but Unaccompanied is now a live Champion Hurdle contender after holding seasoned rival Thousand Stars in impressive fashion.
Ireland's winning most trainer admitted to being quietly confident prior to her assault on a second Grade One and as she cruised into the race under the walking wounded Paul Townend, the result was clear from prior to the final hurdle.
She is now a general 10/1 shot for the opening day feature at the Cheltenham Festival and a tilt at the Irish equivalent back at Leopardstown next month is next on the agenda.
"She was fabulous and I'm delighted that she has won a second Grade One, and she is a very good mare for a four-year-old," said Weld.
The master of Rosewell House continued: "Although she beat St Nicholas Abbey in a listed race at the Curragh, I was a bit concerned that I may have been throwing her into the deep end against Thousand Stars who is very solid.
"If she comes out of today alright we will look at the Irish Champion Hurdle back here and if everything went alright there we would look at Cheltenham."
Having won that listed race after finishing second at Cheltenham, Weld admitted that yesterday's race was actually to be the deciding factor to where she would be campaigned over the next few months.
"Today was an important day, as I think she could be a very high class Stakes filly on the flat if we went back to that route, but after today I think we will stick with hurdles a bit longer."
As one journalist suggested in jest that Unaccompanied would take the Champion Hurdle route followed by the Melbourne Cup, Weld was quick to reply: "I wouldn't rule it out -- stranger things have happened."
As with most of Dermot Weld's top class performers the world seems to be literally Unaccompanied's oyster.
Another mare continuing on the upgrade is the Prunella Dobbs-trained Our Girl Salley, who claimed the final day's Grade Three mares' hurdle for the second consecutive season.
The 11/4 favourite was yet to get back to winnings ways this season prior to yesterday, but she had two-and-a-half lengths to spare at the finish.
Despite failing to land a blow on her earlier appearances, Dobbs pointed at limited opportunities and is looking ahead to a couple of possible cross-water raids for her six-year-old.
"She took a little bit more time this year, but prep runs are hard to come by and we had to run her over two miles," explained the Wicklow-based trainer.
"I didn't want her to be ready too early though, as I want her to finish out her season and with mares you need to be very careful and get it just right."
As to future targets she concluded: "There is a nice race at Ascot and another at Doncaster within a week of each other at the end of January that we will look at, and all being well we will bring her to Cheltenham. She'll definitely go there if she is right."
Trainer Shark Hanlon hit Leopardstown for a double yesterday, as the impressive Hidden Cylcone opened his account over fences at the first time of asking.
Last season's classy novice hurdler was billed as a future Gold Cup horse by Hanlon, and he continues to fulfil his lofty reputation.
"I'm delighted with that as it was his first run over fences and he wasn't 100pc and he's going to improve," claimed the trainer.
"Andrew (McNamara) said he jumped fine but he's going to have to improve again before he goes into graded company. There is a winners' one at Fairyhouse at the end of next month and that's where we will go next.
"He idled halfway up the straight there and wasn't great at the last but that was a fair race and he did it well."
Long term prospects look good, but Hanlon was in no rush to commit to running Hidden Cyclone at the Cheltenham Festival this season.
"The plan was to keep him at home this season but we'll wait and see. It's a long way to go before Cheltenham and we'll see what the owners want to do. He'll have three or four runs this season."
Hanlon completed a double on the card as Star Neuville overturned favourite Vesper Bell to win the maiden hurdle, completing a double for jockey Brian Hayes and owner Barry Connell too.
Former amateur rider Connell watched his colours carried to victory in the opener by Hayes on the well backed Glam Gerry, and things got better in the bumper, as Connell enjoyed a hat-trick when Mumbo Jumbo won the concluding race for Mags Mullins and Corky Carroll.