The Big Dog opened his account over fences after coming out on top in a thrilling climax to the Punchestown Grand National Trial.

Peter Fahey's charge had been placed in his first three completed starts in novice company over the larger obstacles, most recently finishing third when a hot favourite at Navan last month.

Entering handicap company for the first time since his hurdling days, The Big Dog was the 5-2 market leader for Punchestown's €80,000 feature, with top amateur Jamie Codd in the saddle.

The eight-year-old travelled with more zest than many of his rivals for much of the three-and-a-half-mile journey and looked likely to win comfortably after kicking clear rounding the home turn.

However, Screaming Colours finished to good effect in the testing conditions and made The Big Dog pull out all the stops to claim victory by half a length.

Fahey said: "His runs in all his beginners' (chases) were good after coming back from a year off. I'm delighted for the Kellys (owners), as they are huge racing supporters and its great for them to win a good pot.

"He'll tip away in good handicaps and see how it goes. He's lairy and you have to make plenty of use of him, which is tricky in beginners' chases as when you force it in front, he's losing ground jumping.

"His jumping was brilliant today until he took it up and he just looks around."

Considering future targets, the trainer added: "If the ground was heavy we might think about the Irish Grand National, but he'll probably need to go up a bit in the weights to get into it. We'll see when the time comes." 

Thedevilscoachman continued his progression with a fourth win from five career starts.

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.

Bookmakers 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."