Simonsig Off and Running
(Healy Racing Photos)
What appeared to be a straightforward task for Nicky Henderson's exciting grey became even easier when Act Of Kalanisi and Dare Me departed at the same fence, independently of each other - with Ashbourne Folly unseating at the next.
The progressive Sulpius was left in the lead but only on sufferance as Barry Geraghty was prepared to shadow his sole remaining rival.
The only danger to the 2/9 favourite was himself as they were never going fast enough for the six year old's liking.
Geraghty kept him under a tight rein, however, and Simonsig readily went on once allowed his head.
The winning margin was recorded at 49 lengths as the leading Arkle fancy enjoyed little more than a schooling round.
Despite that, Sky Bet were sufficiently impressed to slash the winner's odds to 9/4 from 3/1 for the Festival contest with spokesman Michael Shinners remarking: "He jumped really well and won as he pleased. Clearly he will have much sterner tests, but this was an excellent stepping stone."
He is as low as 6/4 for the Cheltenham showpiece with Paddy Power.
Henderson said: "He was good. We know that he will be an awful lot better when going a shade quicker, but Barry (Geraghty) did let him go and jump them.
"This was as good a novice hurdler as I've seen in a long time and we seriously thought about him being a Champion Hurdle horse, but we decided to send him chasing.
"He's in the Wayward Lad on the 27th (at Kempton on Thursday). I'd say it's unlikely, but I'm not ruling it in or out and Remittance Man won at Leicester on a Tuesday so easily that we ran him again at Newbury on a Saturday and he won by something like 25 lengths."
Geraghty said: "That was very much mission accomplished, he settled well and jumped nicely.
"He got the revs up at one or two but listened to me every time, he was foot-perfect at the last three.
"You couldn't ask for much better around a track like here. He's a two-miler not a three-miler.
"I wasn't bothered he was a little bit keen, that's what you want with a good horse, a horse with an appetite. He never did anything stupid.
"You couldn't ask for a novice to do much more than he did."
There will be a precautionary inspection at 8am to determine whether tomorrow's meeting at Navan can go ahead.