State Man did all that what was asked of him as he reappeared with a straightforward victory in the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday.
The Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old landed a gamble in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham in March and signed off his campaign by winning a Grade 1 at Punchestown.
One of three runners for the champion trainer in the Shishkin colours of owner Joe Donnelly, he was sent off the 4/9 favourite to make a winning reappearance under Paul Townend – and the result never really looked in any doubt.
It was stablemate Sharjah who eventually chased him home, beaten four lengths, although Patrick Mullins had been hard at work from some way out before eventually staying on to go by Saldier.
State Man is the third favourite for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham with most bookmakers, behind Constitution Hill and Honeysuckle.
“I was delighted with that, it was a nice start to the season,” said Mullins.
“The race worked out perfectly for him and Paul asked him a nice question down over the last two hurdles.
“Sharjah had been working well at home and he put him to bed when Paul asked him.
“We wanted to get a good run into him. If he’s going to go down the Champion Hurdle route he needs to be asked those questions.
“He was nicely keen in behind Saldier, he got a good lead and did everything that was asked. Thankfully all the hurdles were left in and he got a bit of practice because he needed it.
“He’s probably not Champion Hurdle class jumping-wise yet but that will come in a bigger field with more competition.
“I think there is plenty of improvement left in him. Looking at that I don’t think Henry (de Bromhead), Michael Buckley (Constitution Hill’s owner) or Nicky Henderson will be too worried, but we’re going to improve too and I think he is the horse that has improvement in him.”
When asked if he was ready to tackle Honeysuckle he added: “We’ll be ready when we’re ready!
“She’s obviously going to Fairyhouse (Hatton’s Grace) and we won’t go there. I don’t know whether we’ll meet before the Champion Hurdle. Hopefully we’ll all get there, that’s the main thing.
“We’ll try to build him up slowly and have enough experience by the time we get to Cheltenham.
“I’m looking at Christmas and the Dublin Racing Festival with him. We’ll keep him going, get experience into him and harden him up.”
Mullins had been expecting to run last season’s Triumph Hurdle winner Vauban but his return has been delayed.
“He’s just not ready yet. He’s only four, he’s a baby, and he mightn’t be up to Champion Hurdle class this year,” said Mullins.
“It’s about once every 25 or 30 years that a four-year-old is able to go through and win (the Champion Hurdle) and it’s usually a bad renewal of it. I don’t think this year is going to be a bad renewal the way things are shaping up.”