Bryan Cooper recorded a double in the opening session of the Down Royal Festival yesterday ahead of his date with destiny on Don Cossack today.
Michael O'Leary's retained rider claimed the featured WKH Hurdle aboard Identity Thief when making all the running to score, despite bunny hopping the final flight, and easily accounted for the placed pair Whiteout, which stayed on one pace, and Modem which filled third and had every chance.
Cooper said: "He's a horse we always liked. He's strengthened up after the summer break. He may have got to the front too soon on his last two starts and got beat. He jumped very well except at the last and that was a case of mixed communications."
Winning trainer, Henry De Bromhead added: "He showed some really nice form last year but possibly everything happened a bit quickly for him as he won his bumper and maiden hurdle first-time out both times.
"I'll talk to the O'Learys but I imagine he'll stay hurdling this year and will make a lovely chaser. He did it the hard way and Bryan gave him a super ride. The race that comes to mind is the Hatton's Grace [Grade 1 Fairyhouse] over two and a half miles."
The same scenario prevailed in the opener when Cooper made all on favourite Cogryhill for trainer Gordon Elliott who had the 1-2 when the locally owned debutant The Storyteller was the only danger to the winner in the closing stages.
Elliott said: "He's a really big chaser in the making. He could have done with some company as he was on his own and ducking and diving and didn't know what to do."
Crossgar trainer Colin McBratney supplied the first and third in the beginners chase when Topper Thornton with Adrian Heskin aboard prevailed after the favourite, Noble Endeavour, blundered at the last when looking the likely winner, while Quickasyoucan filled third in the race for the second year.
Champion trainer Willie Mullins and champion jockey Ruby Walsh combined to claim the Grade 3 mares hurdle when Listen Dear was another to make all.
Walsh said "I was thinking at the top of the hill they have to be coming at me - I looked round two out and couldn't believe it. She a fair mare!"
The King Of Brega justified sustained support to land the handicap chase with numerous fallers over the final two fences while supplying Henry De Bromhead with a double. Pace And Passion denied Misdflight in the handicap hurdle and survived a stewards inquiry while Gordon Elliott's Tombstone was the runaway winner of the finale.