AHEAD of his eagerly-awaited chasing debut, Vautour came to Navan with a lofty reputation and this time the hype was fully justified as he thrilled racegoers with a superb round of jumping.
A hugely impressive winner of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle in March, the Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old led from the drop of the flag and gave Ruby Walsh an armchair ride as he won as he liked.
None of his 15 rivals could get close enough to give him a race as the 2/11 favourite eased eight lengths clear of talented four-year-old Clarcam.
"He jumped well and it's nice to see him pass his first test. I don't think he could have jumped any better," said Mullins.
"The fourth last was the only fence he got a bit close to and I'd give him the benefit of the doubt because of the sun. For a novice he handled it well.
"Ruby asked him after the second last and I was delighted the way he jumped the last after changing gear. The obvious thing is to go for the two-mile, one-furlong Grade One novice chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
"We'll see if there's something before that or whether we wait for that, I don't know. His dam won from mile and a half to three miles and being by Robin Des Champs there's no reason why he won't stay."
Walsh added: "I thought he jumped super. He has loads of scope and only does what he has to do. I'm very happy."
Vautour's victory was the centre-piece of a Mullins' hat-trick as the champion trainer had earlier struck with Milsean which duly justified odds of 2/11 when making all the running in the opening maiden hurdle, although he had to be driven out by Bryan Cooper to hold Snow Falcon by a length and a half.
After Milsean had survived a lengthy stewards' inquiry - during which Cooper was given a four-day ban for improper riding - Mullins indicated that the gelding would take a step-up in trip for his next outing.
"He will improve a fair bit from that run as I thought he looked big coming here but we needed to get him out," explained the Closutton supremo.
The country's leading trainer completed his treble - and recorded his eighth winner of the weekend - in the closing mares' bumper as Lyrical Theatre (11/8 favourite) enjoyed a cosy success.
Ridden by the trainer's son Patrick, the five-year-old bounded home by eight-and-a-half lengths from Twentytwo's Taken.
"She is the real deal, and is improving all the time," remarked Mullins Snr. "She has never showed anything like that at home but her pedigree is coming out in her and she looks very smart.
"We'll have to decide if we go jumping or wait until next season. We may think about the Cheltenham Bumper."
The trainer later confirmed that he will unleash another exciting novice chasing prospect at Thurles on Thursday in the shape of Un De Sceaux, where the winner of last season's French Champion Hurdle could meet Mouse Morris' classy Rule The World over two miles and two furlongs.
Feature event on the card was the ultra competitive Ladbrokes Troytown Handicap Chase, in which Balbriggan put up an admirable front-running performance to land a big gamble.
Available at 14/1 in places in the morning and opening at 10/1 on course, the Gordon Elliott-trained grey was backed down at all rates before being sent off the 4/1 market leader.
Ridden with supreme confidence by assured 3lb-claimer Kevin Sexton, Balbriggan saw off all challengers up the straight as he showed a willing attitude to maintain a relentless gallop and beat off Owega Star by a length and three-quarters.
Elliott, completing a 9/1 double on the day, said: "He's owned by two soccer agents (Lee Power and Willie McKay). We gave a good few quid for him but he's paid his way now.
"I couldn't believe the price he was (20/1 on Saturday and 11/1 on track). He's in all the staying chases like the Becher (at Aintree) and the Paddy Power (at Leopardstown).
"He'd a nice light weight on his back and Kevin jumped him out and made use of it. He gave him a fine ride."
Elliott also struck with Free Expression which took the step up to Grade Two company in his stride as he maintained his unbeaten record in the 'Monksfield' Novice Hurdle.
Winner of a point-to-point and a bumper, the JP McManus-owned gelding was sent off the 11/10 favourite on the strength of his victory in a 25-runner maiden hurdle at Naas and Mark Walsh brought the five-year-old through to lead after Martello Flyer had fallen two out when holding a narrow advantage.
Rank outsider Shantou Flyer looked a danger on the run-in but Free Expression kept on well to score by a length and a quarter.
"He was very green and is still a big baby," observed the Co Meath handler. "He ran all over the place but he's one for the future. He definitely wants two-mile-four plus and a faster gallop. He's going to be a big chaser for next year."
The Stuart Crawford-trained Glenquest (11/2), which had to miss an engagement at Haydock on Saturday due to travel problems, gained compensation by seeing off Moreece by three lengths in the two-mile handicap hurdle in the hands of Barry Geraghty, who was replacing the suspended Andrew Lynch.
"He has an entry in the Welsh National but may not have a high enough rating to get into that," said Crawford of the former Terence O'Brien inmate.
Pencilhimin (20/1), a full-brother to 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner War Of Attrition, lived up to his illustrious breeding by showing great determination in the hands of Danny Bension to foil a gamble on Gallant Oscar (11/8) in the Proudstown Handicap Hurdle.
The writing looked on the wall when Walsh brought Tony Martin's well-backed market leader to challenge two out, but Norman Cassidy's nine-year-old would not be denied under the talented 5lb-claimer and got home by half-a-length.
"He was 18lb better off, including the claim, with the second horse compared to a run earlier this year and I was confident of beating him," Cassidy said afterwards.
"He idled in front. I was going to go chasing after his last run in Limerick, and he'll probably go chasing over Christmas. There is also a valuable handicap hurdle back here next month."