REAL Steel led home a one-two-three for Willie Mullins in the Grade 2 Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles.
The champion trainer launched a strong assault on the two-mile, four-and-a-half-furlong prize formerly known as the Kinloch Brae Chase, with Footpad seemingly his chief contender following his third place in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Despite being the highest-rated horse in the field, the eight-year-old received weight from each of his four rivals and was the 8/11 favourite to bounce back to winning ways in the hands of Daryl Jacob.
After initially being settled on the heels of the leaders, Footpad went to the front heading out onto the second circuit and produced some exuberant leaps.
However, Paul Townend covered the move aboard his stablemate Real Steel, a winner at Down Royal earlier in the season before finishing fourth behind his esteemed stable companion Min in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase.
The pair had it between them rounding the home turn, but it was clear even at that stage that 2/1 shot Real Steel had far more to give and he pulled clear to seal an impressive 14-length win.
Footpad again had to make do with minor honours in second, with another Mullins inmate in Voix Du Reve back in third.
?? Real Steel upsets stable companion Footpad!— Racing TV (@RacingTV) January 19, 2020
?? Real Steel
?? Voix Du Reve
A 1-2-3 for Closutton maestro @WillieMullinsNH as Real Steel captures the G2 Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase @thurlesraces under @PTownend
Results ? https://t.co/glajGV55GR pic.twitter.com/GtT4sUYXoU
Mullins said: “I was disappointed with Footpad, but I think he ran too free and the pace was a little bit slow. He did too much in the middle of the race and missing the omitted third-last fence didn’t give him a chance to get his breath back.
“I was very pleased with how Real Steel jumped and how he stayed on and he is improving. Voix Du Reve improved from his last run as well.
“I’d imagine the Ryanair Chase is the plan for Real Steel. Paul said he was as straight as a die today and there was no bias (jumping left or right). We were concerned before, but we have to be looking at the Ryanair Chase with that performance.
“Footpad could possibly do the same, but today was not his run. Maybe he had too hard a race in Kempton and it may have impacted on him.”