Thedevilscoachman continued his progression with a fourth win from five career starts at Punchestown on Sunday.
Successful on his racecourse debut in a bumper at Naas last season, Noel Meade’s charge made a victorious start over hurdles at Cork in November, before finishing fifth behind Appreciate It in Grade One company at Leopardstown over the Christmas period.
Having since bounced back to winning ways at Navan, the JP McManus-owned five-year-old was the 15-8 favourite as he stepped back up in class for the Listed I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Novice Hurdle.
And after travelling strongly for much of the two-mile contest under Mark Walsh, there was a lot to like about the way he knuckled down after the final flight to see off American challenger French Light by two lengths.
Paddy Power left Thedevilscoachman unchanged at 16-1 for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.
Meade said: “It was a nice race for him. He’s so laidback – he just does whatever you want him to do.
“I’ll have to talk to JP and Frank (Berry, owner’s racing manager) about plans and see what they are thinking. We’ll see where the handicapper puts him in.
“He’s a nice horse to have. When you pick him up he has a great turn of foot, which is what you want in a real racehorse.”
Shady Operator also emerged as a potential Cheltenham contender for McManus after justifying even-money favouritism in the opening P.P. Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase.
Making his cross-country debut for trainer Enda Bolger, the eight-year-old took to it like a duck to water in the hands of Derek O’Connor to leave connections contemplating whether to have a crack at the Glenfarclas Chase in the Cotswolds.
“He did it well. He’s an experienced handicapper, but it was his first time over the course. He’d taken well to the banks at home and Derek said he was very professional,” said Bolger.
“We’ll see now how he is after this. I don’t know whether he’d be good enough to go to Cheltenham or not. He could be a horse to come back here in the spring, but we’ll see when we get him home and talk to the boss man.
“It’s Derek’s first winner over the banks.”
Willie Mullins and Paul Townend combined to land both divisions of the Happy Birthday Sarah Ann Madden Maiden Hurdle, with Pont Aval (9-2) bouncing back to form in division one and Jungle Boogie (2-13 favourite) claiming his second win from as many starts in division two.
Mullins said of Pont Aval: “She’d been doing nice work at home for the last couple of weeks. She was disappointing at Christmas and it’s good to see her back to form.
“Two and a half miles plus will be the programme for her for the rest of the season.”
Jungle Boogie may have earned himself a place on the champion trainer’s Cheltenham team following his 30-length success.
“He’s a brave horse and he was just a bit keen with Paul. He likes to get on about his job, likes to get on with jumping. I think he was too keen to jump well,” Mullins added.
“He looks a decent sort and we’ll see if the owner wants to travel (to Cheltenham) with him. He’s well entered up and could be one for the Ballymore or Albert Bartlett, but he could be very keen to be going for one of those races.
“We’ll see how he comes out of this first.”
Dermot McLoughlin’s Thunderosa (15-2) claimed the David Trundley Artist At Punchestown Handicap Hurdle under 7lb claimer Paddy O’Hanlon, before Jack Kennedy steered the Liz Doyle-trained Farmix (4-1) to an impressive win in the Punchestown Festival Of A Different Colour Rated Novice Chase.
Doyle said: “He’s not a quick horse, but he jumps so well and has such a big, long stride that we’ll keep him to two (miles).
“He might get an entry in a handicap in Cheltenham. He’s not overly experienced, so we’ll see what happens.”
Gigolo’ Dai Dai (10-1) won the concluding bumper for trainer Henry de Bromhead and jockey David Roche.