Coney Island returned from almost a year off with a stylish display in the Sodexo Graduation Chase at Ascot on Saturday.
A Grade One-winning novice for trainer Eddie Harty last season, the JP McManus-owned six-year-old had not been seen since being touched off by subsequent Irish National hero Our Duke at Leopardstown last Christmas.
Facing just two rivals on his comeback, one of those being the out-of-sorts More Of That, Barry Geraghty was content to bide his time on Coney Island at the rear of the field.
At the head of affairs, Paul Nicholls’s Adrien Du Pont, in receipt of 11lb, was keen in front and jumping well, going further clear with every leap.
However, just before turning into the straight, Geraghty began to gain ground as Adrien Du Pont’s stride shortened.
Suddenly the race changed complexion, with Coney Island (11-8) breezing to the front and eventually coming home unchallenged, leading to his odds being halved to 10-1 for the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Paddy Power.
Harty said: “He won well, the second horse possibly went a little bit hard and paid the penalty in the last two furlongs.
“I’m delighted with my fellow, as he’s not run for a year. I’m grateful to Ascot for putting the race on and it’s a nice starting point.
“To pitch him in the Christmas Chase at Leopardstown was the only other alternative and that would have been quite hard.
“I’d imagine we’ll put him in the Irish Gold Cup and Cheltenham Gold Cup and see how he goes from there, hopefully we get a trouble-free run with him this year.”