Galopin Des Champs dispelled any stamina doubts when running away with the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
In doing so the Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old cemented his position at the head of the betting for the blue riband at Cheltenham. There were still plenty in with a chance half a mile out when The Big Dog departed in the process of running a huge race.
At that point Davy Russell took it upon himself to lay down his challenge on Fury Road as he went up to challenge Stattler, but Paul Townend was stalking the pair on the 30-100 favourite.
The three got close together on the run to the last, with Fury Road awkward at it. That left Galopin Des Champs with the initiative and while it briefly looked like it may be hard work, he soon pulled well clear.
Having his first run at three miles over fences, the extra distance at Cheltenham looks unlikely to pose a problem on this evidence as he drew away to win by eight lengths clear. Stattler ran back on to reclaim the runner-up spot. “He was very professional and Paul was happy where he was throughout the race,” said Mullins.
Daryl Jacob gave El Fabiolo a perfect ride to win the Goffs Irish Arkle Novice Chase for Mullins.
Mullins held an enviable hand in the race with Appreciate It, Dysart Dynamo, Flame Bearer and Saint Roi giving the champion trainer a stranglehold on the Grade 1.
The Mullins camp all seemed to side with Appreciate It, with Townend making him his selection after two faultless victories over fences. But the nine-year-old, who has missed so much time with various injuries, found younger legs too much to handle in a contest that was run at a ferocious pace.
That was set by Danny Mullins on Dysart Dynamo and after only four fences good horses like Fil Dor and Visionarian were a long way behind.
El Fabiolo (9-2) did make a bad mistake three from home, but Jacob allowed him time to get back into his rhythm and by the second-last he was in pole position.
As he began to pull away, Joseph O’Brien’s Banbridge began to stay on strongly and he eventually got by Appreciate It and Dysart Dynamo to finish second, but some 10 lengths away.
Final Orders continued his rapid rise through the ranks to highlight a handicap double for Gavin Cromwell at Leopardstown.
While three of the Grade 1s on the card predictably went the way of Mullins, although not all in the expected manner, both valuable handicaps went to Cromwell who can seemingly do no wrong at present.
Final Orders (9-2), rated only 59 on the Flat and 102 over hurdles, has been transformed over fences and was making it five out of six from a mark of 140.
“He has massive scope,” said Cromwell. “They are big fences around here but he just has so much scope. He loves it and is just thriving off it. He was off 140 there today and he’s only 102 over hurdles so it’s been a massive transformation.
“When we schooled him at home he jumped great, he’s very clever, but he really came alive when we ran him. That’s obviously the best race he’s run in and Keith (Donoghue) said it was the best feel he’s given him.
Earlier Perceval Legallois (4-1) had given Mark Walsh a first winner back from injury in the Race And Stay At Leopardstown Handicap Hurdle, in which Gordon Elliott’s hot favourite Maxxum was sunk without trace.
Cromwell also revealed that he is feeling more positive about the chance of Flooring Porter being able to defend his Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle crown at Cheltenham.
The dual winner of the race met with a setback last month that forced Cromwell to state his chance of running at the Festival was no better than 50-50.
However, following a pleasing scan result this week the in-form trainer was able to be slightly more upbeat, without getting carried away.
“We got a bit of good news yesterday and we’re actually back riding him. I wouldn’t want to tempt fate, but it’s a bit more positive this week.”