Sir Des Champs became Ireland's main contender for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup when outstaying Flemenstar in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old, ridden by Davy Russell, outstayed Peter Casey's stable star, who seemingly failed to last out the three miles despite being held up for most of the journey.
Quel Esprit set the pace in a four-horse affair, but the race developed into a duel between the big two over the last two fences. Andrew Lynch hung on to Flemenstar until after the last, but he could not quicken to go past Sir Des Champs (11-8), who prevailed by a length and three-quarters.
Sir Des Champs is two from two at the Cheltenham Festival and was cut to 9-2 second-favourite with Stan James to make it a hat-trick in the Gold Cup, for which the Nicky Henderson-trained Bobs Worth is 3-1 favourite.
Mullins said: "He jumped well, did it well and it looks like there's more improvement. Every year he improves in the spring. He's been to Cheltenham twice and he loves the place. He loves that hill, so I'm hoping he can show what he did the last two years, that he can keep improving coming into March.
"We were hoping he would do that at Christmas (in the Lexus Chase), but his jumping errors left him too far out of the race at the second-last. He got his jumping right today and probably the drier ground helped, plus there were only four runners and the one ahead of him (Quel Esprit) gave him a good lead.
"He got low at the early fences and I thought he would have to improve, which he did. Davy (Russell) was very good on him - he inserted pace four out when he looked around and saw Flemenstar was going so well. He had to do that to make a staying race of it. The further he was going, the better."
Of Flemenstar, Francis Casey, assistant to his father, told At The Races: "We were delighted with the way he settled. It could be a blessing in disguise, but I haven't a say (in what race he runs in at Cheltenham). It will be the owner and my father. I imagine he'd be going back in trip, but what race?
"I know father was always aiming at the Queen Mother, and I have a slight preference for that myself. Today everything went right except for a few fences. He has a lot of speed and has a high cruising speed and jumping ability. Trying to extend it in longer races, he is not using his jumping ability.
"He was just popping his fences and everything was going to plan. We were hoping he'd get there, but it didn't work out. It proved conclusively he is not a three-mile horse. It's an extra two and a half furlongs in the Gold Cup and to me, he'd struggle to get over the last."
24 October 2016Tea For Two in mix for Sodexo Gold Cup
Double Shuffle in BetVictor frame for Tom George
Churchill form boost pleases Aidan O'Brien
Weather frustration set to continue for Ben Pauling and Barters Hill
Neil Mulholland to consider Haldon Gold Cup option for Fox Norton
Coneygree given Charlie Hall Wetherby entry 'just in case'
Coologue considered for Hennessy Gold Cup by Charlie Longsdon
Forgotten Rules team cool on hurdling career
Henry Candy has sole focus on Breeders' Cup Mile with Limato
Colin Tizzard has Thistlecrack sharp and ready for Chepstow chasing bow
Time called on career of dual Derby hero Harzand
Meydan a 'potential' destination for Gordon Elliott and Commissioned
Noel Meade rules Apache Stronghold out for the season
Ben Pauling to duck Bangor mission with Barters Hill
Third Intention books Hennessy ticket with Old Roan victory
Found set to be given Breeders' Cup Classic entry
Vazirabad repeats Prix Royal-Oak success
Titus rules in Leopardstown clash
Making Light betters colts in Killavullan Stakes
Flying Fairies floors Zawraq at Leopardstown
No Charlie Hall run for Gold Cup hero Coneygree
Native River in frame for Wetherby reappearance
William Haggas keeps Rivet's Guineas options open
23 October 2016Third Intention claims Old Roan Chase at Aintree
Titus rules in Leopardstown clash
Smooth success for White Satin Dancer at Leopardstown
Luke Morris breaks collar bone in Chelmsford fall
David Menuisier looks to France with Make Time
Jonjo O'Neill in no rush with Festival hero Minella Rocco
Eve Johnson Houghton raises hurdles possibility for What About Carlo
Fox Norton and Shantou Village provide Neil Mulholland with Cheltenham double
Rivet nails Yucatan as Andrea Atzeni strikes again at Doncaster
Identity Thief hacks up on chasing bow at Punchestown
Sceau so good at Cheltenham
Soie D'Leau strikes for Stubbs on Town Moor
Graham Lee times it right as Duretto pounces at Newbury
Rob Hornby blossoms on Doncaster scorer Rosie Briar
Feisty Coologue back on the straight and narrow at Cheltenham
Pleaseletmewin surges to Newbury glory for Ralph Beckett
22 October 2016Fox Norton back with a bang at Cheltenham
Laurence takes Doncaster prize after stewards' inquiry
Randox Health sign five-year County Hurdle sponsorship deal
Spanish Tenor aiming to hit winning note in Killavullan date
Zawraq takes Trigo test as he returns from lengthy absence
Prescott uncertain ahead of Pallasator's Saint-Cloud spin
Tom George hoping for winning return from God's Own in Old Roan
Sun Bets announced as All-Weather Championships sponsor
Waller targeting third Cox Plate win with Winx following Moonee Valley stroll
Simon Crisford sets Rodaini Newbury challenge
Neil Mulholland has Shantou Village ready to roll at Cheltenham
Winx impresse as she claims second Cox Plate victory
Heron Heights peaks as Henry de Bromhead returns to winning ways at Cheltenham
Frankel colt Mirage Dancer delivers at Doncaster
Blow for Bryan Smart as Delectation heads to Germany
Jonjo O'Neill sees sense in Carlisle comeback for More Of That
Legendary chaser Moscow Flyer dies aged 22
Yucatan leads the way for O'Brien in Trophy test at Doncaster
National Hunt Chase to be run in honour of JT McNamara
Identity Thief makes chasing bow at Punchestown
Norwegian raider Quarterback aiming for winning Newbury run
21 October 2016Frankel colt Mirage Dancer leaves it late to claim Doncaster honours
El Bandit plunders Cheltenham prize for red-hot Paul Nicholls
Jack Kennedy sidelined following new leg injury
Betway to sponsor three categories of the All-Weather Championships
David Elsworth mulling Lingfield outing for Swiss Storm
Mark Johnston pays tribute to The Last Lion as he retires to stud
Competition watchdog to probe online gambling firms amid unfair treatment claims
Charlie Appleby eyeing Breeders' Cup with Latharnach
Middle Park winner Shalaa retired to stud
Cloudy Dream stars as Brian Hughes bags Carlisle four-timer
I'dliketheoption sparks Jonjo O'Neill double at Ludlow
Thoughts turn to Dubai for Roger Varian and Postponed
Alpha Des Obeaux off the mark over fences at Thurles
Preis is right for Algometer
Henry de Bromhead to launch three-pronged Cheltenham raid
Yucatan spearheads Aidan O'Brien team as Capri swerves Doncaster date