CLASSY filly Unaccompanied earned herself a 12/1 quote for the Champion Hurdle next March after showing the boys the way home in the Istabraq Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown yesterday.
The four-year-old was a Grade One winner at this track in February before going on to split Zarkandar and the smart Grandouet in last season's Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Carrying the familiar colours of Moyglare Stud and trained by Dermot Weld, Paul Townend settled her at the back and brought the four-year-old (100/30) to challenge Oscars Well at the last before holding off the sustained challenge of Thousand Stars to win by a length and a half.
Last season's Triumph Hurdle is now looking like one of the best ever run. Apart from the first three home, two notable also-rans were Brampour, which has won two big handicaps, and Molotof, unbeaten this term in three novice hurdles.
"That was a lovely performance from her and a brilliant ride from Paul," said Weld. "I was a bit concerned about her lack of experience, especially taking on Thousand Stars who is high class and a very solid performer.
"My biggest concern, however, was whether the rain would bring her stamina into play. I will speak to her owner and we might consider the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham but the obvious target now is to come back for the Irish Champion on January 29. Then we'll look at the Champion."
Unaccompanied also secured a Listed prize on the Flat in April, when she had Breeders' Cup winner St Nicholas Abbey behind.
John 'Shark' Hanlon has yet to decide whether to ready Hidden Cyclone for a trip to Prestbury Park following his impressive debut over fences in the Ballymaloe Country Relish Beginners Chase.
The 7/4 shot won five times over hurdles, including twice in Graded company, but did not face a straightforward task on his first foray over larger obstacles.
Andrew McNamara was positive on his mount, which stayed on powerfully to beat Nearest The Pin by two lengths, with favourite Shot From The Hip a disappointing fourth.
"He wasn't 100pc and will improve a good bit. His jumping was good but Andrew said it would have to improve to move up to Graded class," said Hanlon.
"He idled halfway up the straight and met the last wrong. There's a winners-of-one race at Fairyhouse at the end of January and he'll go there.
"We haven't made our minds up about Cheltenham. That was a fair race and he did it well but he'll have to improve to be a Cheltenham horse."
Our Girl Salley landed the ITBA Fillies Scheme EBF Mares Hurdle for the second successive year under a determined drive from Barry Geraghty. The two-and-a-half-mile contest was upgraded to Grade Three status for this year's renewal and the 11/4 favourite rose to the task for trainer Prunella Dobbs, finishing well to beat Stephanie Kate by two and a half lengths.
"She took a little bit longer to get out this year," explained Dobbs. "We want to finish the season with her so we didn't want her out too early. There aren't very many races for her.
"We'll look at the Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas and there's a couple of nice mares' races for her in England at Ascot and Doncaster. The mares' race at Cheltenham is definitely an option for her -- the good ground might suit."
The well-supported Glam Gerry (13/8 favourite), carrying the Barry Connell silks, continued trainer Colm Murphy's fine week. He landed a gamble under a calm ride from promising young jockey Brian Hayes in the Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Chase.
The same yellow colours were carried to victory in the two-and-half-mile maiden hurdle as Star Neuville (5/2) proved too strong for odds-on favourite Vesper Bell to complete a double for Hanlon and Hayes. "I have to give Brian full praise. He gave him a savage ride," said Hanlon.
Having already tasted success with Star Neuville and Glam Gerry, owner Connell went on to complete a hat-trick when the well-supported 11/4 favourite Mumbo Jumbo, trained by Margaret Mullins, got the better of Maller Tree in the bumper.
Maller Tree's trainer, Jessica Harrington, had earlier ended a 40-day 'famine' without a winner over jumps when Jetson took a grief-stricken Pertemps Handicap Hurdle in the hands of Robbie Power.