Sir Oj booked his ticket to a tilt at some big prizes – including the Grand National – with victory in the Tote “Online Betting For Cheltenham” Newlands Chase at Naas.
The Noel Meade-trained nine-year-old exchanged the lead with Nickname throughout the two-mile contest, going on after jumping the fourth-last better than the 6-4 favourite.
Nickname came back strongly to lead at the final fence only for Sir Oj (5-1) to rally in game fashion under Paul Carberry on the run to the line and score by a length and a half.
VC Bet cut Sir Oj, who has having his first race since winning the Robin Cook Memorial Gold Cup at Cheltenham in December, to 25-1 from 33-1 for the John Smith’s-sponsored National at Aintree.
Cashmans make the nine-year-old 6-1 favourite from 10-1 for the Racing Post Plate, formerly known as the Mildmay of Flete, at the Cheltenham Festival with Coral going 8-1 from 12-1.
He also holds enties in the Ryanair Chase and the William Hill Trophy.
Meade said: “He’s a lovely horse and very tough. Providing he comes out of this race OK he will go for something at Cheltenham and has a few options there.
“He might just be the ideal type for the National. He stayed two miles, five furlongs very well when winning at Cheltenham back in December.
“He could hack along and might be able to get home.”
Ladbrokes cut Sir Oj to 25-1 from 40-1 for the Aintree marathon.
Lordofourown sprang a surprise for absent trainer Shane Donohoe in the Anglo Irish Bank Nas No Riogh Novice Chase.
The Grade Two contest lost some of its interest when Meade’s odds-on favourite Father Matt unseated Carberry after making a bad mistake at the sixth-last fence when in the lead.
That left early pacemaker Chetwind Music back in front but Lordofourown was always travelling well for Andrew McNamara.
Leading two out, the 12-1 shot went on to win by nine lengths from Chetwind Music, with Kill Devil Hill third.
Donohoe is away on a golfing holiday in Spain, but his wife Samantha said: “He made a hash of the first the last time at Leopardstown and lost a shoe.
“We didn’t put him in at Cheltenham because he needs a good galloping track and would not suited there. We are thinking of the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse and we’ll also look at Aintree’s two-and-half-mile novice chase, as well as Ayr.”
Merdeka made all the running under a canny ride by Barry Geraghty to win the Bar-One Racing Johnstown Novice Hurdle.
Geraghty gradually extended his lead on the 7-2 shot and was eight lengths ahead with four flights left.
Although the pack closed in the straight with two hurdles to jump, Tom Taaffe’s well-regarded runner had enough left in the tank to beat Back to Bid by two and a half lengths, with Stoneville and Tony McCoy third.
A delighted Taaffe said: “The last time he ran here it was a shambles of a race. Barry did what I wanted him to do today and the horse is now finished for the season.
“We’ll ‘party’ him now, give him a break, and he’ll go novice chasing next season.
“He’s a big, raw baby and I hope he doesn’t have too hard a season next year as we are still looking to the future.
“This horse has a chance of going all the way.”