Marie’s Rock bounded back into action with a convincing triumph in the Dornan Group Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year's Day.

The Nicky Henderson-trained mare has not been seen since April, when she signed off her season with a superb Grade 1 double in mares’ contests at Cheltenham and Punchestown.

Back in action against geldings in this Grade 2 heat, the mare took no time to hit her stride when coming home a wide-margin winner at 11/2 under Nico de Boinville.

Getting weight all round, she made smooth progress to grab the lead from Dashel Drasher and galloped six lengths clear, with stablemate First Street a further head back in third.

Henderson said: “It was remarkable. I was trying to train her early on in the year and I couldn’t see anywhere for her to go. She wants two and a half (miles), perfect trip for her, but there wasn’t a race for her until the Relkeel.

“I tried to train her early on in the year and she wasn’t showing anything, which is what she did two years ago, when she took a year out.

“So I stopped and started again. All of a sudden, her work was completely different again. So you can guess what I’m going to tell you now?

“She will go for the Mares’ Hurdle. They only thing you could have said, the original idea might have been to try her over three miles earlier on. It (possible race) was over three miles and it was listed, but I wasn’t happy with her.

“Do you do Stayers’ Hurdle? I don’t know. She tanked up there. I think she would have taken a blow at the top of the Cleeve Hill.

“We have all got to get everywhere. It is great getting your ducks in order, but you have to get them in the right order and they have all got to be swimming downstream at the right time.”

He added: “I surprised me how well she did it. To do that was pretty impressive. Nico was always sat there having a lovely time. She gets through this ground – this is not nice ground – but she sort of scampers along. She is not like one of these great big, long-striding chasers that can’t get through it. She scampered and she gets through it better than most.

“I can’t see any point in going anywhere with her before Cheltenham.

“First Street has run a great race. He just didn’t get two and a half in that sort of ground. He was going plenty well enough at the last. He couldn’t quicken and flattened out. He wants to come back to two miles on better ground.”

De Boinville was impressed with his mount’s returning effort.

He said: “It was very, very impressive. I was surprised she was that impressive in that ground – it was dead and sticky and not very nice at all. Everyone at Seven Barrows has done a great job getting her ready for today and she felt fresh and jumped brilliantly. She is just a true Grade 1 mare.

“I didn’t want to go for her too soon as that last hurdle is stepped back quite far. I was mindful that it was her first race of the season, but as soon as I’ve winged the last, she set off up the hill and stayed on really well. I’m delighted with the run, and she is just a fantastic mare.”