Monkisland earned his ticket to Cheltenham Festival with an impressive victory under a confident Paul Carberry ride in yesterday's Slaney Novice Hurdle at Naas.
Noel Meade's five-year-old was an 11-length winner on his sole bumper start at the Down Royal Festival in November and had made the perfect start to his career over obstacles at Navan a month later.
The market suggested that the Naas trip represented too big a step up in class, as his odds took a walk in the betting, yet Carberry exuded confidence throughout.
The Meath rider was keen to bide his time on the 6/1 chance and the partnership could be spotted still travelling strongly as the field prepared to round the turn for home.
Hot favourite Dedigout took over the lead at the top of the straight, but he had no answer when Monksland cruised by and Meade's gelding was eased after the final flight to score by four and a half lengths from runner-up Lyreen Legend.
“That went exactly to plan. I thought he'd win to be honest as he is very good,” remarked Meade.
“He was involved in a serious piece of work at Fairyhouse where he finished second to Bog Warrior and I think he had a bit up his sleeve.
“He has done everything right since and jumps well.
“He is good enough for Cheltenham and he will go for the Neptune — I'm not sure whether he will run before that as he is easy to get fit.
“He had earplugs in as he used to be very nervous, but he has relaxed and never turned a hair today,” he added.
Peter Casey also has big ambitions for Flemenstar following a fine performance in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Novice Chase.
Sustained support for the Willie Mullins-trained Lambro saw him sent off the 11/10 favourite but Andrew Lynch, recording his fourth winner of the weekend, was first to commit for home on Flemenstar and, while Lambro did his best to make a race of it, the 6/5 chance was too strong.
“He will go to Leopardstown for the Arkle on January 29,” Casey said.
“He wants a bit further. The ground was desperate and he probably didn't like it.
“He did well when it came down to it. He got under the last a bit.”
The JP McManus-owned Sportsmaster bounced back from his hurdling debut mishap by landing the juvenile hurdle for Edward O'Grady.
Mark Walsh sent the four-year-old to the front from an early stage and the rider cut a confident figure aboard the 2/5 shot turning for home.
Main market rival Hisaabaat did his best to bridge the gap after jumping the final flight, but Sportsmaster was always doing enough and had a length in hand passing the post.
Hats And Heels fairly bolted up on her first appearance over obstacles in the Annual Membership At Naas Maiden Hurdle.
Having won at Cork and finished third at Navan in the bumper sphere, the Mullins-trained daughter of Flemensfirth was sent off the 5/6 favourite.
Ruby Walsh eased his mount into contention before pulling easily clear for a five-length verdict.
Mullins said: “She's exciting for her size.
“She ran around a bit at the second-last, but apart from that, she did everything right,” he added.
Champion trainer Mullins went on to record a double as 2/7 favourite Un Atout routed the opposition in the closing bumper, earning a 16/1 quote for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in March.