The mighty Denman might not have everything his own way in the Lexus Chase later in the month as 2006 winner The Listener showed his well-being ahead of a repeat bid with an emphatic success at Punchestown.
Robert Alner’s grey has been trimmed to 9-2 from 15-2 by William Hill for the December 28 contest after easing to a 19-length triumph in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown.
He unshipped Daryl Jacob at the third fence in the James Nicholson Wine Merchant Champion Chase last month, but never gave his supporters a moment of worry this time around.
Jacob soon had his mount settled in a good rhythm, with One Cool Cookie and Sher Beau sitting in his slipstream.
But The Listener jumped superbly and turned the screw as the field entered the final six furlongs, with his rivals flagging in the heavy ground.
Runner-up Mansony travelled kindly for Davy Russell but could never get on terms with the leader, who drew clear under tender handling up the straight.
Charlie Swan’s One Cool Cookie stuck to his task to claim a distant third.
With Alner still in intensive care following a car crash, assistant trainer Nick Mitchell was delighted to see The Listener regain the winning thread.
He said: “It’s a good tonic for the boss and Robert had the nurse on the phone halfway up the run-in.”
“Bring on Denman,” he added. “I can’t think of another horse in England or Ireland I’d rather take him on with.
“I’m not saying we’ll beat him but it’ll be soft ground and it’ll be interesting.”
Hills, VC Bet and sponsors totesport were all in agreement, trimming The Listener to 25s (from 33-1) for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.
Totesport spokesman Damian Walker said: “The Listener has a great record on soft ground.
“But it doesn’t look likely that he’ll get it very testing at Cheltenham and, on the figures, he was entitled to win impressively.”
Your Sum Man revelled in the mud to win the INH Stallion Owners EBF Novice Hurdle.
Tony Mullins’ gelding had previously won two races on good-to-firm ground, but showed he is no back-number in bottomless conditions either.
Runner-up Quintana was off the bridle some way from home but showed bags of resolve to jump into a fairly commanding position after the last.
But Your Sum Man, a 13-2 chance, powered into contention on the run-in and came with a fair rattle under David Casey to seize the day by a length and a half.
Mullins said: “It’s great to win a Listed race with him.
“He’s won two summer bumpers and that made people believe he’s a good-ground horse.
“But I think he’s equally as effective on that ground – if not better.
“At the moment he’s improving but I don’t see him in the same league as (stablemate) Aranleigh.”