El Fabiolo kicked off the new campaign as he finished the last with a predictably dominant display in the Bar One Racing Hilly Way Chase at Cork.
The Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old was flawless as a novice over fences last season, winning each of his four starts, including a brilliant triumph over Jonbon in the Arkle at Cheltenham.
With Jonbon having advertised his Queen Mother Champion Chase claims with victory in the Tingle Creek at Sandown on Saturday, it was over to El Fabiolo 24 hours later and he did not disappoint.
Mullins had saddled nine of the last 10 winners of the Hilly Way, with Un De Sceaux, Chacun Pour Soi and the currently sidelined dual Champion Chase hero Energumene among those on the roll of honour.
El Fabiolo was a 1-5 shot to add his name to the list and after travelling well on the heels of the pacesetters for much of the extended two-mile contest, Paul Townend allowed him to take over before four fences from the finish and he quickly took control.
Fil Dor did his best to keep tabs on the leader in the home straight, but despite a peck on landing after jumping the final obstacle, El Fabiolo never looked like coming to grief and was driven out on the run-in to prevail by four and three-quarter lengths.
Betfair and Paddy Power left the winner unchanged at 10-11 for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March, with old rival Jonbon rated his biggest threat at 5-2.
Mullins said: “I was a little worried as I had five other runners today and none of them shone so I was thinking this could be one of those days, but he got the job done.
“He was workmanlike and was very free with Paul over the first three fences. He didn’t get too high (in jumping) and Paul was trying to not let his head go and didn’t want him running too free.
“He relaxed at the second fence down the back straight and was able to do things properly. If he needed a race, Jack Kennedy (on runner-up Fil Dor) was there to test him and he did.”
There is a possibility of a pre-Festival clash between El Fabiolo and Jonbon, with Mullins suggesting a trip across the Irish Sea could be next on the agenda for his charge.
He added: “Jonbon did his job nicely, we got the job done today and we all have to get to Cheltenham.
“I don’t where we’ll go now – we’ll look at Christmas as well, but he will probably go to Ascot for the Clarence House (in January).”
The champion trainer also provided an update on Energumene’s well-being, saying: “He is in great shape considering and while he is out for the season, hopefully will be out at some stage.”
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