Voler La Vedette will have her mettle tested in the Irish Champion Hurdle on January 24 after she continued her winning spree in the ITBA Fillies Scheme EBF Mares Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Trainer Colm Murphy will use the Grade One test as a marker for the five-year-old to determine her Cheltenham Festival target, with the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle and the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle her two options.
The 1-3 favourite has few peers amongst her own sex and the winner of seven of her nine starts slaughtered subsequent Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdle winner Go Native at Down Royal last month.
Although she lacked the killer turn of foot which was so evident on that occasion, Paul Townend was nicely on top at the death and came two lengths clear of the field.
Murphy said: “Paul said she was doing too much, so dropping her back to two miles with a fast pace will suit her.
“We will throw her into the deep end now and give her an entry in the Irish Champion Hurdle next month.
“That will tell us where to go afterwards. She will have an entry in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, but the mares’ race is the obvious place to go.”
William Hill trimmed her to 7-2 for the Mares’ Hurdle, while she remains unchanged at 20-1 with the same firm for the Champion Hurdle on March 16.
Western Leader scraped home to open his account over timber in the Ryans Event Cleaners Maiden Hurdle.
Shark Hanlon’s 7-2 joint-favourite braved the worst of the wind and sleet out in front, and jumped the final flight with a handy advantage.
Andrew McNamara had the Barry Connell-owned five-year-old in his sights, though, and stoked up Acapulco to give chase, with just a short head separating the two runners at the wire.
Hanlon said: “He is a smashing horse and the step up in trip has helped him.
“He needs bottomless ground and I’ll try and find a two-and-a-half-mile novices’ race for him somewhere.”
McNamara and trainer Edward O’Grady did not have to wait long before heading into the winner’s enclosure as they teamed up with the well-backed Fen Game (4-1) in the Paddy Fitzpatrick Memorial Hurdle.
Save The Bacon bravely aimed to make all and was only picked off on the run-in, with McNamara coming from well off the pace to claim his scalp.
O’Grady said: “He ran well the last day and I thought he had come on for it.
“We put a tongue tie on him today and I don’t know whether that helped, but it certainly did him no harm.
“He will have another couple of runs over hurdles and will then jump a fence, although we will probably wait until the new season to do that.”