American Mike stayed firmly on course for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper with victory in the Future Champions INH Flat Race at Navan.
Running in the colours of Noel and Valerie Moran’s Bective Stud, the Gordon Elliott-trained four-year-old made his debut under rules at Down Royal in October and was sent off at 1-8 under Jamie Codd to follow up.
Leading two furlongs out, the Mahler gelding strolled further clear to beat Battling Bessie by 17 lengths.
Betfair cut the winner to 3-1 from 7-2 for Cheltenham in March, and Elliott said: “I’m very happy with him and he’s done what we expected. I don’t think he could have done any more. Jamie said it was a proper race and they went a good gallop.
“He could go for the Dublin Racing Festival, but I’d say he’ll go straight to Cheltenham.
“I think he’s a proper horse.”
Elliott and the Morans had struck earlier on the card with Au Fleuron (7-2) in the Navan Ford Maiden Hurdle.
Elsewhere it was a landmark afternoon for 20-year-old Neil Ryan, as he rode a first winner over obstacles courtesy of Hugh Finegan’s Futurum Regem in the feature Tara Handicap Hurdle.
Only third jumping the last, the 16-1 chance stayed on well to beat Sassy Yet Classy and Bread And Butter by a neck and the same.
Ryan said: “I rode a winner at the Curragh this year (CrasssusCrassus) and that’s my first winner over hurdles – my first big ride.
“I’m working in Noel Meade’s full-time. Luckily enough Hughie’s nephew is in Noel’s as well and he helped to get me the ride.
“He jumped and travelled the whole way. I gave him a squeeze up the straight and he picked up. He toughed it out and seems to like it around here.”
Finegan added: “He’s a little horse, but just seems to be improving the whole time. The secret to him seems to be ground and weight. The ground was good and we’re lucky it hasn’t changed.
“The light weight really suited him as he’s not a big horse.”
He added: “I train only about 15 minutes down the road in Nobber. I have four horses for the track and a few point-to-pointers.”