Dual Champion Hurdle runner-up Melon opened his account over fences with a battling display at Leopardstown.
The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old was considered a potential superstar in the making both before and after making a winning Irish debut at the Dublin circuit in January, 2017.
However, although he has since finished second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and in two Champion Hurdles, he has found wins hard to come by, with his only triumph since that initial Leopardstown triumph being at Down Royal over two years ago.
Having chased home the high-class Fakir D’oudairies on his chasing debut at Navan, Paul Townend’s mount was the 5-4 favourite to go one better in the Paddy Power “Live Stream All Irish Racing On Our App” Beginners Chase – and jumped well in the lead for much of the way.
With Martin Brassil’s Cheltenham hero City Island making a catalogue of errors during a disappointing display, Gallant John Joe emerged as Melon’s biggest threat, but the market leader knuckled down well after a final fence error to score by two and a quarter lengths.
Mullins said: “I was very happy with the way he jumped early on, obviously he made a mistake at the last, but what particularly pleased me was the way he fought back when it looked like the game was up.
“He makes life difficult for himself, but he fought back well today.”
He added on plans: “I’d imagine the Arkle is the likely target. He could come back here for the Dublin Racing Festival and will need more experience.”
Mullins teamed up with his son Patrick to land the bumper with the impressive Appreciate It (11-10 favourite).
“That was a very good performance. He’s a real chaser in the making, but I’d imagine we might try and go down the Cheltenham bumper route,” said the trainer.
Abacadabras got back on the winning trail with an ultimately comprehensive success in the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle.
Gordon Elliott’s charge won his first two starts over hurdles – including a Grade Three at Navan – before filling the runner-up spot behind esteemed stablemate Envoi Allen when stepped up to Grade One level in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse.
He was the 10-11 favourite to go one better – and despite not always convincing in the jumping department, he eventually mastered outsider Heaven Help Us to seal an eight-length victory under Jack Kennedy.
Blue Sari, runner-up to Envoi Allen in last season’s Champion Bumper, was bitterly disappointing.
Elliott said of Abacadabras: “He’s got a bit of pace and we rode him for it. I’d say the hurdle flicked back at him going down the back (straight), but he’s professional enough and I’m happy with him.
“He’ll probably come back here in February. I’d say a bit better ground would suit him as he doesn’t bend his knee too much and just flicks across the top of the ground.
“When he got to the front he didn’t do a stroke again. He’s a nice horse.”
Betfair make Abacadabras their 7-2 favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
Elliott and Kennedy doubled up with Roaring Bull in a pulsating renewal of the 200,000 euro Paddy Power Chase.
There were several fallers during an incident-packed race, but there were still plenty in with chances rounding the home turn.
Fitzhenry (6-1) looked set to deliver for favourite-backers after fighting his way to the front from the final fence, but 16-1 shot Roaring Bull finished with a flourish to get up in the dying strides.
“I feel sorry for Paul Nolan (trainer of Fitzhenry), who is a very good friend of mine. I was watching the race out on the track with Paul and I was cheering his horse on because I thought I was gone,” said Elliott.
“Next thing, with about 50 yards to go, I saw my lad flying and I sort of bit my tongue and said nothing.
“It’s great for everyone in the yard, but I’m a bit gutted for Paul.”