Top-weight Castlebawn West made virtually every yard of the running in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown.
A promising third on his seasonal reappearance and handicap debut at Punchestown last month, the Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old was a 13-2 chance for another fiercely-competitive renewal of this 150,000 euros contest.
With 22 runners going to post, Castlebawn West was initially settled in behind the pacesetters before taking over the running after jumping the first few fences under Paul Townend.
From that point he never saw another rival, with some prodigious leaps keeping the pressure on his many rivals in behind.
Minella Times, one of several runners for leading owner JP McManus, emerged as the biggest threat from the home turn, but Castlebawn West never looked in serious danger of being caught and had four and a half lengths in hand at the line.
Mullins and Townend were completing a treble on the card following the earlier Grade One victories of Chacun Pour Soi and Appreciate It.
“That was a huge performance. He was so slick jumping in front, he was getting breathers and as Paul said, the better he jumped the more confidence he got,” said Mullins
“He’d been working very well at home, but it’s hard to go into a big handicap like that with top-weight thinking he could win.
“We’ll be looking at the Aintree National or the Irish National after that. He’s probably going to handicap himself out of the Thyestes.
“He’s not a huge horse, but has great scope and a great technique (for jumping).”
The champion trainer was denied a four-timer in cruel circumstances, with 4-11 favourite Reality Cheque looking set to run out an impressive winner of the bumper before suffering a fatal injury in the closing stages.
His demise left Ballycairn (13-2) to claim victory under Jamie Codd, who said: “It’s not the way you would want to win any race, but unfortunately that’s racing and that’s life. We were running a big race.”
French Aseel was a brilliant winner of the opening Paddy Power ‘Only 4 More Days Until 2021’ 3-Y-O Maiden Hurdle.
Ellmarie Holden’s French recruit was the 7-2 favourite in the hands of Denis O’Regan and barely came off the bridle, passing the post 22 lengths clear of Dermot Weld’s Coltor.
Paul Holden, owner and father of the trainer, said: “We bought him in Arqana (for 62,000 euros) in July. He won over a mile in France.
“We were just waiting to get him right for a juvenile hurdle. We knew he had ability and he also handled soft ground in France.
“He showed plenty of class there and we’ll probably look at a Graded race next.”
Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore combined to claim top honours in the Paddy Power Games ‘Don’t Think You’re Special’ Beginners Chase with January Jets.
Always to the fore, the 7-2 chance already looked the likely winner when his nearest pursuer Jungle Junction came to grief at the final fence, leaving January Jets to score by 15 lengths from Soviet Pimpernel.
“He jumped well, probably a little bit right, but Rachael was happy with him,” said De Bromhead.
“He’s progressing with every run. We always hoped he’d be a better chaser than a hurdler and it’s lovely to win today.
“We’ll aim for the good novices in the spring.”
Master McShee was a 5-1 winner of the Paddy Power “Maybe I Like The Misery” Handicap Hurdle.
Paddy Corkery’s charge had chased home Appreciate It on his hurdling debut at Cork last month before going one better at the same track three weeks ago.
With Appreciate It bolting up earlier in the day, Master McShee looked to have strong claims on his handicap debut and came home five lengths clear under Ian Power.
Corkery said: “It’s brilliant to be able to bring a horse here with a chance and to win is unreal.
“Ian has given him a peach of a ride each day he’s rode him. He’s a horse with a lot of ability.
“I wouldn’t rule out going to Cheltenham, but it’s not the be-all and end-all this year. If he’s still in one piece next year, he’ll probably be a better horse over fences and we might go then.”