Hot favourite Don Poli provided Willie Mullins with his fifth winner of the Festival in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham under Bryan Cooper.
Winner of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle 12 months ago and unbeaten in two previous starts over fences, the six-year-old was a 13-8 market leader on his first start since winning at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Despite racing lazily at various stages of the three-mile Grade One, Don Poli responded to Cooper’s urgings and joined Kings Palace for the lead when that horse made a mistake in the back straight.
The two of them fought it out coming down the hill before Don Poli asserted from the home turn.
Southfield Theatre briefly appeared a major threat jumping the second-last, but Don Poli powered away from the last for a six-length success.
Wounded Warrior, like the winner owned by Gigginstown House Stud, was third.
Cooper, who suffered an awful injury at last season’s Festival, said: “To get a winner this early (in the meeting) is great. I’ve been supported by great people.
“Willie’s done a serious job with this horse. He could be very special.”
Gigginstown supremo Michael O’Leary said: “He always seemed quite comfortable, if anything Bryan had to wake him up.
“It’s another outstanding training performance by Willie Mullins – the man’s a genius.
“I have a very good jockey and a great trainer. It’s great not to have to wait until Friday for a winner.”
Asked whether he could be a Gold Cup horse next year, O’Leary added: “I’ll enjoy today, there’s no point planning for next year – that will take care of itself.”
Mullins said: “It was special. It looked like he was idling the whole way up the straight, ears pricked.
“It looked like he’d have won the four-mile chase after all!
“If that’s the best in Ireland and over in England, you’d have to say that (he could be a future Gold Cup horse).
“We’re a bit numb. The week has gone way above our expectations.”