Favourite backers came off the ropes at Punchestown last night to pin their faith in dual Cheltenham Festival heroine Quevega and veteran L'Ami with pleasing outcomes in the feature races.
Backed from 100/30 to 5/2, Quevega again demonstrated her undoubted class when cruising away from English raider Bensalem and stable companion Mourad in the Ladbrokes.com World Series Hurdle.
Ridden with supreme confidence by Paul Townend, the six-year-old, in the colours of the locally-based Hammer & Trowel Syndicate, simply glided to the front off the final bend to the cheers of her followers.
The 19-year-old Cork pilot only had to let out a couple of inches of rein from the final flight to settle the issue from Mourad, which was then overtaken on the run-in for second by Irish-owned Bensalem.
This was the second win on the trot for champion trainer Willie Mullins in the Ladbrokes promotion after the currently sidelined Fiveforthree likewise justified favouritism 12 months ago.
A crack at the French Champion Hurdle in Auteuil possibly beckons now for Quevega, which went to Cheltenham without a warm-up race and could have a similarly constricted schedule next spring.
Having taken this first attempt at three miles in her stride, the stoutly-bred performer could attempt a hat-trick in Cheltenham's Mares Hurdle or take her chance in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle next March.
“She has loads of class and pace and I would be tempted to give her a similar Cheltenham preparation again as she had an injury last year.
“The trip was no problem — her dam won cross-country races in France,” Mullins remarked.
Third here to Solwhit and Punjabi in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle last year, Quevega is jointly owned by Clane-based Ger O'Brien and Sean Deane and was a fourth Grade One scorer of the week for the Mullins yard.
Habitually sharing the spotlight at Punchestown these days is another Kilkenny-born handler, Enda Bolger, who specialises in cross-country races mainly on behalf of JP McManus.
Bolger's Bruree academy delivered yet again in the Avon Ri Chase for the La Touche Cup as JT McNamara forced L'Ami past stablemate Freneys Well on the run-in after a 7,000 metre journey.
Indeed the Bolger team were collecting in this marathon for the 12th time in the past 13 renewals.
The attendance of over 15,500 watched the drama unfold over the banks course sprinkled with a myriad of other obstacles, with the Bolger pair dominant as they headed back to the home straight.
While the Alan King-trained pair Ainama and Karabak didn't live up to expectations earlier over hurdles in the McManus colours, Captain Cee Bee — ridden by Tony McCoy — made handsome amends for his Cheltenham lapse on behalf of the Limerick sportsman when bouncing back to form in the Ryanair Chase.
Favourite Riverside Theatre — part owned by Coleraine actor James Nesbitt — was ridden by Barry Geraghty who was fortunate to escape largely unscathed from a three-horse melee five out.