Last year's Grand National third place finisher Seabass confirmed himself a major contender for this season's renewal of the Aintree spectacular with a tremendous comeback run over hurdles at Fairyhouse.
The Ted Walsh-trained 10-year-old was a heavily supported joint-favourite for the world's most famous steeplechase last April and gave the trainer's daughter Katie Walsh a fantastic spin to be beaten just five lengths.
Making his first appearance since in a two-mile hurdle race, Seabass was hardly going to be seen to best effect, but ran on strongly to fill the runner-up spot behind the impressive Rock Critic.
The Willie Mullins-trained Make Your Mark was the 4-6 market leader for the Racegoer's Package Hurdle on the strength of some strong novice form last term, but 9-4 shot Rock Critic was travelling much the better of the pair as they rounded the home turn as one.
Once given his head by Robbie McNamara, Dermot Weld-trained Rock Critic scooted clear to make it two from two over obstacles by three and three-quarter lengths.
Seabass was predictably outpaced as the front pair quickened into the straight, but finished well under Ruby Walsh to grab the runner-up spot from a rather disappointing Make Your Mark.
Walsh senior was understandably delighted with the performance and with Colbert Station also Aintree-bound, the trainer now has two major contenders as he aims to win the race for a second time following the triumph of Papillon in 2000.
“I'm happy with him. He'll run somewhere in three weeks' time. He has loads of options,” said Walsh. “There is the Bobbyjo Chase, the race he won in Naas last year and also the Racing Plus Chase at Kempton.
“He's well and he's a 154-rated horse over fences now. The plan is to give him another run and then go straight to Aintree. He has fragile old legs and you wouldn't want to be abusing him.”
Stan James clipped Seabass to 16-1 from 20-1 for the Grand National on Saturday April 6.
Rock Critic was cut to 12-1 by the same firm for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, but Weld warned he was not a certain starter at Cheltenham.
“He did what I thought he would do. He knows his job and he jumps well,” said Weld.
“We've no definite plan — we'll speak to the owners. He's entered in Cheltenham but at the moment I see him as a Punchestown/Fairyhouse horse.
“We didn't plan to get there so soon but his jumping took him there — he jumped like a stag.”