Elimay booked her ticket to the inaugural running of the Mares' Chase at Cheltenham with victory in the BBA Ireland Limited Opera Hat Mares Chase at Naas as she highlighted a treble for Mark Walsh.
The grey finished a creditable second to stablemate and Ryanair Chase favourite Allaho last time out – and with Willie Mullins seemingly having his strongest ever team heading to the Festival, Elimay made sure she will be on the list of many with a smooth display.
Mullins’ Yukon Lil and Gordon Elliott’s Shattered Love appeared keen to make it a test of stamina, as both have form over further than this two miles – but so does Elimay, and she was able to cruise into contention on the home turn.
The three jumped the second-last in line, but then Elimay was given just an inch of rein by Walsh and she put the race to bed before jumping the last.
Those who backed her at 8-15 had little to worry about as the JP McManus-owned seven-year-old strolled to a five and a half length win.
Coral trimmed Elimay into 3-1 from 4s for the Mares’ Chase, while Betfair go the same price from 7-2.
"That was a nice race to win and shows up Allaho’s form. It’s great to win the Opera Hat in honour of Valerie Cooper’s good mare and hopefully this mare might some day be as good as her," said Mullins.
"Mark was happy to let the pace materialise up front and the ground is quite boggy down the back. The further the race went, the better she was going and Mark was very pleased how she finished.
"That’s a nice stepping stone towards Cheltenham. I’ll have a word with connections, but I would imagine that will send us towards the Mares’ Chase."
Walsh also won the second division of the Naas Business Club Members Maiden Hurdle on Gentleman De Mee (2-7 favourite) for Mullins and the Naas Handicap Chase on the Gordon Elliott-trained Minella Till Dawn (12-1), both in the McManus colours.
Elliott also took the concluding bumper with Eyewitness (13-2), ridden by Jamie Codd.
The trainer said: "He’s come forward a lot from his first run. He was very green the last day and we could ride him the way we wanted to ride him today.
"He stays and is a nice horse. He probably doesn’t want real winter ground.
"He could mix it between the Flat and bumpers and will go over hurdles. He’ll do everything."
Joseph O'Brien will be hoping lightning can strike for a third time in the case of Druid’s Altar.
The previous two winners of the Naas Rated Novice Hurdle, O’Brien’s Band Of Outlaws and Gordon Elliott’s Aramax, have gone on to win the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Sent off the 13-8 favourite, Druid’s Altar was hard pressed on the run-in by Zoffanien, but Hugh Morgan galvanised him and he ended up going away to win by two and a quarter lengths.
Betfair and Paddy Power cut the winner to 14-1 from 25s for the Boodles next month.
Assistant trainer Brendan Powell said: ""He has a good attitude and stays well. Hugh said he was better there with a bit of company, because he’s made it a few times.
"He was in top-class company on his last few races and it’s nice to get his head in front again. He’s done it nicely in the end and he seems to cope with most types of ground.
"He’s a big horse and will jump a fence some day."
Hurricane Cliff (13-8) floored the odds-on Captain Kangaroo in division one of the Naas Business Club Members Maiden Hurdle.
The pair jumped two out together, before the winner just began to assert and ultimately was always doing enough from the last to prevail by two and a half lengths in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.
Winning trainer Henry de Bromhead said: "I was a bit disappointed with him in Leopardstown at Christmas so we said we’d sit with him and wait a bit longer. He ran well at Punchestown and it’s lovely to see him go and do it here.
"He’s learning all the time and is a lovely big scopey horse. He should be good over a fence in time.
"We’ll aim for the festivals here later on in the spring."
A gamble on the Charles Byrnes-trained Rough Terrain went astray in the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Hurdle, with the 2-1 favourite beaten when taking a tired fall at the last.
The race was won by Philip Dempsey’s Fou Diligence (7-1) under Tommy Brett.
"He’d been knocking on the door and you’d be hoping he hadn’t missed his chance. He was consistent last year and then got a knee injury and it took him a while to come back," said Dempsey.
You Raised Me Up is already eight and had finished third in the Ladbrokes Hurdle at last year’s Dublin Racing Festival.
However, he only won for the first time over hurdles in September and followed up when finishing with a late flourish in the Connolly’s Red Mills Irish EBF Auction Novice Hurdle – a race the same connections won with City Island in 2019 who went on to win the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle next time out.
"We were waiting for a bit of nicer ground and I didn’t think we were going to get it," said Brassil after the success of his 9-2 chance.
"Anyway I wanted to run him here to qualify for the final in Punchestown and also a stepping stone to running in the County Hurdle in Cheltenham.
"Sean and Bernadine (Mulryan, owners) like to go to the festival meetings."