State Man justified odds-on favouritism with consummate ease in the Paddy Power Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
The Willie Mullins-trained gelding had won four Grade Ones in succession before having his colours lowered by Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.
But without Nicky Henderson's star to contend with, Paul Townend's mount was backed as if defeat was out of the question and those who took the restrictive odds of 2-5 never had a moment's concern.
Townend was happy to lob along in front with stablemate Vauban saving ground to his inside and Pied Piper on his left flank.
However, State Man was asked to stretch three out, and whipping round the final turn, he took two lengths out of his rivals and had the race won approaching the last.
Although he got in a little tight, the six-year-old steadied himself and drew clear to score by three lengths from Vauban. There was plenty of daylight back to the staying-on Colonel Mustard.
"He has been beating these horses all year and thankfully he was able to do it again" says Paul Townend after piloting State Man to a comfortable Champion Hurdle win at #Punchestown | Live on @RTE2 and @RTEPlayer now https://t.co/AZlEpmDpcs pic.twitter.com/jVM11JHpQz— RTÉ Racing (@RTEracing) April 28, 2023
Townend said: "He has been beating these horses all year and, thankfully, he was able to do it again today.
"As I said when I made it in Leopardstown, I thought he would be better with a lead and probably a bit the same there.
"He just looks to be the best of that bunch - he just ran into a superstar in Cheltenham."