CLASSY hurdler Voler La Vedette yesterday opened Punchestown's season in the Grabel Mares Hurdle with the promise of more to come.
Successful in the corresponding race 12 months ago, the six-year-old left jumping fans drooling after the long summer break.
Barry Geraghty settled her in mid-division before pulling out to challenge at the second-last flight and she barely had to be shaken up to beat Star Wood by three lengths.
Colm Murphy's charge is the highest-rated horse of the fledgling jumps season to appear and sets followers up nicely for the likes of Sizing Europe at the same venue this afternoon.
"We're delighted to get that out of the way. She came here a little bit under-cooked and she should improve an awful lot from it," said Murphy. "The Morgiana is the obvious place to go now but we won't be getting too carried away yet.
"She settled like a lamb and the ear-plugs worked wonders. She was a filly last year but she is a mare this year -- there is no comparison."
First Lieutenant looks a nice prospect for Mouse Morris as Andrew McNamara booted the 1/2 favourite home for a two-and-a-half-length victory in the Punchestown Event Centre Maiden Hurdle. "Next season he'll be a chaser but at the minute he is still a big baby. Two and a half or even three miles is what he wants and that ground there was probably fast enough for him. He couldn't do much more than he did," said Morris.
JP McManus' Accidental Outlaw landed a bit of a touch for Charles O'Brien and Mark Walsh in the opening juvenile hurdle.
Available at 7/1 in the morning, he was backed into threes and beat Bun Oir by nearly five lengths. McManus' racing manager Frank Berry said: "He came home well and jumped the last well. We'll find a winners' race for him now."
Muirhead won his first race since December 2007 when getting off the mark on his chasing bow in the beginners' chase under Paul Carberry.
However, those that invested in Noel Meade's charge at 2/5 would have been close to tearing up their tickets as Coolavanny Gaffer looked like he had the initiative before the final fence, but Muirhead pulled out just enough on the run-in to prevail by a neck.
"He jumped brilliant and that's what the whole thing is about," Meade said. "He got a bit tired and I suppose you'd have expected him to win easier."
The Paul Magnier-trained Duers showed himself to be a tough sort by turning out just three days after a fourth placing in the Munster National to land the handicap chase in the hands of Ruby Walsh, while Christy Roche's Green To Gold took the Five Day Festival Handicap Hurdle by eight lengths under Alan Crowe.
Colin Bowe can do little wrong at present and his well-bred mare Our Victoria came out best in a driving finish to the mares' bumper.
The winner was runner-up in a point-to-point at Castletown-Geoghegan 10 days ago and that fitness and experience helped her to see off the newcomer Catcherinscratcher by the minimum margin.