Champion Hurdle dark horse Espoir D’Allen continued his progression when winning his first race outside his own age group in the Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas.
A smart juvenile last season, the five-year-old has only lost one of his eight races, when going wrong in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at last season’s Dublin Racing Festival.
He has looked an improved performer in this campaign, winning at Naas and Limerick, but he faced a different test in this Grade Three affair, conceding 7lb to older rivals including Grade One winner Wicklow Brave.
Everything went smoothly in the main for Barry Geraghty, who gave the 4-9 favourite a flick down the neck approaching the second-last, with his mount quickening impressively.
His only blemish came at the final flight, where he landed awkwardly, but he had enough left to hold off Wicklow Brave by a comfortable two and a half lengths.
Cromwell said: “It was a good performance to give 7lb away to those horses. It was a bit of an unknown taking on the older horses for the first time, but you would have to be happy with that.
“Where we go from here, I’m not sure, and I’ll have to talk to Frank (Berry, racing manager) and JP (McManus, owner). Obviously they have the favourite for the Champion Hurdle (Buveur D’Air) and there are plenty more options.
“He was very long at the last and he let him shorten. He picked up well again after the last and won well.
“He’s a good jumper and makes up ground at his hurdles. He has fair scope.”
Boylesports and RaceBets cut the winner to 16-1 for the Champion Hurdle, where he would in all probability be ridden by Mark Walsh, should as seems highly likely Geraghty opt to stick with dual champion Buveur D’Air.
Geraghty said: “He’s a lovely horse, jumps really well, though he missed the last, but he’s a smart sort with lots of scope.
“He was giving 7lb to reasonable opposition and did it nicely. He doesn’t have options, the division he’s in now is the Champion and if Buveur D’Air wasn’t there he’d be a nice ride.”