Boston Bob could be a fascinating challenger to the mighty Big Buck's in Cheltenham's Cleeve Hurdle after a most impressive comeback victory at Punchestown.
Four-times World Hurdle hero Big Buck's was unable to defend his crown in the staying showpiece last March after missing much of the season through injury, but he is close to a comeback, with the Cleeve his intended starting point on 25 January.
Not unlike Paul Nicholls' stable star, the Willie Mullins-trained Boston Bob reverted back to the smaller obstacles after ending last season with falls at the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals.
Sent off the 8-11 favourite for the Follow Punchestown On Facebook Hurdle in the hands of Ruby Walsh, Boston Bob hurdled fluently in the main and covered the move of Un Beau Matin when he kicked rounding the home turn.
It was soon evident Boston Bob had far more to give in the straight and he pulled clear with the minimum of fuss to score by 10 lengths.
Walsh, who has guided Big Buck's to 16 of his straight 18 wins, acknowledged Boston Bob will need to improve to challenge perhaps the greatest staying hurdler of all time.
"He was a bit high at the first and a bit slow at the second, but after that he was nimble enough," said the jockey.
"He was quite slick in the last part of the race and travelled well.
"He's a very good horse and it's good to see him back on the track and going the right way.
"I'm under no illusions, I've ridden Big Buck's and there is not a staying hurdler running that doesn't have to improve a good bit to get to his level."
Boston Bob's high-class stable companion Mourad disappointed in his first competitive appearance in 569 days, finishing sixth of the seven runners.
Mullins confirmed Boston Bob would pursue the staying hurdle route in the colours of owner Andrea and Graham Wylie, who owned three-time World Hurdle hero Inglis Drever.
Mullins said: "That was a nice performance. He hasn't been doing that at home on the gallops and I didn't expect anything like that.
"Mourad ran poor and coming here I wouldn't have been surprised if this lad had done the same. The owner is keen to go for the World Hurdle.
"Whether that's a World Hurdle performance or not I don't know, but we may go along that route.
"If we're thinking of going that way then the Cleeve Hurdle could be a possibility at Cheltenham."
Mullins and Walsh quickly completed a double as 8-11 favourite Adriana Des Mottes struck by 18 lengths on her Irish debut in the Festival Hospitality On Sale 3-Y-O Maiden Hurdle.
Mullins said: "Her previous experience of the ground and jumping was a big help there. She looks to be a natural hurdler and will go up in grade now and we'll see what she can do."
The application of blinkers helped the Mouse Morris-trained Rogue Angel claim the Buy Your 2014 Annual Membership Beginners Chase under Davy Russell.
The 7-1 shot made every yard of the running and came home 11 lengths clear of Mullins' 5-4 favourite Touch Of Eden, leaving Morris to consider a possible tilt at the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham.
He said: "He jumps and obviously loves the ground. Blinkers were a big help and we'll find a winners of one. We may go for the four-mile race at Cheltenham."
Denis Hogan's Luke's Benefit claimed the Punchestown.com Handicap Chase for the third successive year in the hands of Brian Cawley.
Walsh performed wonders to stay in the saddle aboard 11-4 favourite Troll D'Oudairies after a terrible blunder at the second fence, but quickly pulled his mount up.
Hogan said: "He's won that now for three years and that's brilliant. It's hard enough to get one never mind win the same race three times.
"He likes his own way and unless he's winning easy he tends to get swallowed up. That's his eighth win, though.”
Gilgamboa got back on the winning trail in the Buy Your Tickets Online At www.punchestown.com Handicap Hurdle for trainer Enda Bolger and jockey Mark Walsh.
A winner on his debut at Galway before finishing third at this track, the JP McManus-owned 3-1 favourite beat Rightdownthemiddle by half a length.
McManus' racing manager, Frank Berry, said: "He's a nice big horse and handles the ground well. We'll find another one like that and it was a good ride from Mark.
"He's a horse with a bit of size and scope to make a chaser down the road."
Westerners Son (10-1) barely came off the bridle on his way to winning the Martinstown Opportunity Handicap Hurdle.
The final Irish race of 2013, the Goffs Punchestown Invitational Sale Mares (Pro/Am) Flat Race, went to jockey Jane Mangan aboard 4-1 shot Kilnockin Lady.