Little King rules at Bellewstown
The Cheltenham Festival may be over seven months away but trainer Colin Bowe is already dreaming of big-race glory for Little King Robin.
The ultra-consistent six-year-old is under consideration for the Mares' Hurdle at the Festival next March after she made all of the running to claim the opener at Bellewstown.
Sent off a 5-2 chance for the Good Enuf To Eat Catering Mares' Hurdle, Mark Walsh's partner had to be ridden after the second-last flight but kept on gamely to score by two and three-quarters of a length from Ballychorus.
Little King Robin has now finished no worse than third on her last nine starts, winning four races in the process.
The hardy mare is now set for a well-deserved breather before she moves back through the gears in the winter.
Co Wexford-based Bowe said: "She's as tough as boots. We'll give her a break now and she'll probably come back in December or January.
"She's ground dependent so wouldn't run much over the winter.
"The mares' race at Cheltenham is the long-term plan."
Simplicity proved the winning formula for Draco, who readily justified 1-3 favouritism in the Awards And Gifts Maiden Hurdle.
Aidan O'Brien's five-year-old chestnut had enjoyed a solid spell in bumpers before thoughts turned to a hurdling campaign at the Galway Festival.
The JP McManus-owned gelding did not disappoint, when a promising second at the Ballybrit circiut, but stepped up his game another notch in the two-mile-one-furlong heat.
Robbie Power's mount was quickly away and jumped relatively smoothly en route to a six-length defeat of Mind The Pennies.
"He settled better today and jumped away," said Frank Berry, racing manager for McManus.
"You couldn't ask for any better - he kept it simple."
Gordon Elliott will embark upon yet another English raid with one of his horses after Luddsdenene impressed in the Lougher Stables Handicap Hurdle.
The 10-1 chance readily outmuscled runner-up Res Ipsa Loquitur passing the final flight and drew four lengths clear under Davy Russell.
Elliott said: "He disappointed on his last few runs so I'm glad for Tom (Howley, owner).
"We'll now look for a small selling hurdle in England."
One of the tightest finishes of the night came in the PBA At Bellewstown Mullacurry Cup Handicap, which was dramatically claimed by Cassells Rock.
Curragh Golan looked to have cut loose for Paul Townend, but excellent 5lb claimer Shane Shortall had other ideas.
Cassells Rock, the Tony Martin-trained 5-2 favourite, was cajoled for one final thrust in the two-and-a-half-mile feature to seize the day by the shortest of heads.
Martin said: "We got him out of France last year and he had a few teething problems.
"He wants that summer ground."