Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Sizing John made the perfect return to action in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase.
The Jessica Harrington-trained seven-year-old made an early mistake but was more or less foot-perfect bar that, before taking joining issue with Djakadam at the third-last, travelling extremely well.
Dual winner Djakadam had no answer from there, with Robbie Power and Sizing John (2-1) safely negotiating the last and striding on strongly to the line for a seven-length success from Willie Mullins' runner, who was sent off the 5-4 favourite.
Harrington said: “First run of the year, you are always nervous. I wasn’t worried about the heavy ground going two and a half miles, but he was super. The mistake at the second fence woke us all up and he jumped super after that.
“He’s a super jumper and it’s the first time he’s made a mistake in all the races that I’ve been training him.
“He doesn’t mind heavy ground, not going two and a half miles — it’s just going three miles would bottom him out a fair amount.
“I don’t know where he will go next. It’s always one race at a time and I’ll have to talk to a few people before we decide where we go next.”
She added: “The one place he will turn up, all things being equal, is in March (Cheltenham), and what we do between now and March will depend on the horse. We might go to Leopardstown or the King George or we might miss Christmas altogether.”
The winner, who runs in the colours of the late Alan and Ann Potts, was cut to 4-1 favourite from 6-1 by Ladbrokes for a Cheltenham repeat.
Power said: “He’s a fabulous jumper — it (mistake) just goes to show you should never take anything for granted, but he jumped well after that
“The last few weeks he’s really come to himself and Jessie deserves the credit for not going to Haydock (Betfair Chase), that was good for the horse. The ground was heavy enough for him out there, but he just jumped an travelled.
“From the second fence on I was always in cruise control. At one fence down the back he took two lengths out of Djakadam. He was just very good.
“Djakadam has won this race for the last two years and he’s a good horse over two and a half miles, so we weren’t going to let him dictate.
“Fingers crossed we can keep him right.”
Mullins made no excuses for Djakadam and was quick to pay tribute to Harrington’s ace.
He said: “Djakadam ran grand, but it was a great performance from Sizing John.
“We’ll have to find a new target for him and I’d say he will go for the Lexus (Leopardstown Christmas Chase, December 28th) at Christmas.”