Melon made the most of having his sights lowered when notching his second success of the season in the Baroneracing.com Chase at Cork.
Runner-up at the Cheltenham Festival on four occasions, the Willie Mullins-trained 10-year-old bagged a long overdue victory in the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park in February – his first in over two years and only his second over fences.
He failed to land a telling blow on his return to the Cotswolds for last month’s Ryanair Chase – but dropping back down in class, Melon was the evens favourite to claim Grade Three honours.
Sent straight to the lead by Bryan Cooper, the chestnut jumped well in the main and had several of his rivals in trouble from the home turn.
With last year’s Grand National hero Minella Times weakening out of contention, Doctor Duffy came through to fill the runner-up spot, finishing eight lengths behind the decisive winner.
Cooper said: “It is great for the horse and great to get a winner in these colours. He got into a rhythm and really enjoyed it and this track seemed to suit him as there is a lot of jumping. He jumped fantastic and I was able to boss the race.
“He accelerated, I was always confident and it was a great bit of placing by Willie. These races take winning and he has won two races this year off his rating and it is now easy to place him.
“I enjoyed it to be honest and it is great to win on him.”
Bois De Clamart sluiced to victory in the €45,000 Baroneracing.com Easter Handicap Hurdle.
An emphatic winner over fences at Gowran Park on his last start, Liz Doyle’s charge was switched back to the smaller obstacles in a bid to make the most of his 13lb lower mark over hurdles.
Given a confident ride by Richie Deegan, Bois De Clamart did just that as he powered clear of eventual runner-up Happy Jacky by five and a half lengths.
Doyle said: “I had thought about running him in a handicap chase at Punchestown but I don’t know if he jumps well enough on good ground, so I have been following the weather, with hurdles and chases.
“I told Richie ‘do not come off the left-hand rail’ and he was excellent. It saved four or five lengths and you really have to go wide at Cork when it gets chewed.
“There is no point in saying ‘I hope the handicapper won’t be too hard on us’ but if we were going to lose our novice hurdle status, we might as well do it today with this pot. He was won three €40,000 races for us this year and has been a great horse.
“He doesn’t get too high over his fences, but he might jump well around a Topham (Chase at Aintree), where they only have to flick through them a bit and don’t have to get too high.
“He has great owners – one is in America, one is a Yorkshireman and I’m really pleased for them.”
Irascible lunged late to land the Baroneracing.com Hurdle.
Cash Back set out to make all the running under 7lb claimer Kieran Callaghan and his stablemate and 6-4 favourite Ganapathi was unable to reel him in.
However, Rachael Blackmore and Henry de Bromhead’s 4-1 shot Irascible joined the leader at the final flight and finished best to prevail by a neck.
“He is quite a lazy horse but has some lovely form and it is great to see him get his head in front. I think when he sees a fence he will improve again,” said Blackmore.
Blackmore teamed up with Mullins in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase, with Aione all the rage as the 8-13 favourite.
Odds-on backers were left counting their losses, though, with 15-8 shot Grand Paradis winning the day for Gordon Elliott and Jordan Gainford.
“Everything happened a bit quick for him at Cheltenham (pulled up in Plate), but he had been banging on the door previously and was caught by some nice horses,” said Gainford.
“It was my first time riding him today and it was nice to get his head in front.”
Prairie Dancer stamped his class on the Dermot Casey Tree Care Maiden Hurdle.
Eighth in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham last month, Joseph O’Brien’s 4-11 favourite made the most of the drop in class as he registered a comfortable victory under JJ Slevin.
O’Brien’s assistant, Brendan Powell, said: “He deserved to win on ratings and ran well at Cheltenham. He quickened up well and did it nicely and had to in that company.
“Looking in the paddock, there were a lot of ‘future horses’, but he had the experience off the Flat and it was a nice race to find. He’ll probably mix it during the summer.”