Last year's Racing Post Arkle winner Footpad paved the way to a crack at the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day with an impressive victory in the Listed Boomerang.ie Chase at Thurles on Thursday.
The two-mile-six-furlong trip was the longest he had tried over fences - and fully five furlongs further than he had won over since joining Willie Mullins - but he took it in his stride with a ten-length success over veteran Mala Beach, with daylight back to Jetz and the winner's sole market rival Balko Des Flos.
Footpad was cut across the board for the King George VI Chase to between 12-1 and 20-1 (from 33), while several bookmakers also trimmed his odds for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Sky Bet went 7-1 co-second favourite (from 16), with 12-1 being the best available.
Mullins was not at Thurles but said later by phone: "I'll speak to the owners but I imagine that will put the King George very much on the agenda.
"The right-handed track will suit him, the step up to three miles won't be a problem, and I imagine he'll take his chance."
This seemed to be the Footpad of old, as the 4-5 favourite, in the colours of Isaac Souede and Simon Munir, travelled with enthusiasm and winged his fences en route to his first success since his novice campaign in 2017-18, when he was a four-time Grade 1 winner.
Rider Daryl Jacob's main worry through the race was holding him up, so fresh and keen did he race, and when he let him go between the last two fences the response was immediate as he sauntered clear.
The jockey, who is three from three on Footpad over fences but did not win on his partner in four tries over hurdles, said: "You'd have to be very happy with that. He showed plenty of enthusiasm, travelled very well, and it's a great start for him.
"His jumping was very good, he never missed a beat the whole way round. If they'd gone a bit quicker early doors it would have suited him as he was nice and fresh, but it's nice to see at the start of the season that he can put in a performance like that."
The biggest disappointment in the race was 2018 Ryanair Chase winner Balko Fes Flos, who dropped out tamely from the third-last.
"I was disappointed with that," said trainer Henry de Bromhead. "He stopped quite quickly, so we'll take him home and have a look at him."