Countrywide Flame (11/4) was an impressive winner of the Grade One StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
- Related Content
Denis O'Regan was motionless throughout the contest aboard last season's JCB Triumph Hurdle hero and he went to the front two out as long-time leader Bothy cried enough.
10/11 favourite Cinders And Ashes was tracking the eventual winner at that stage but the Supreme Novices' hero was soon in trouble.
O'Regan finally gave Countrywide Flame his head after the final obstacle and he sauntered clear to win in style.
Trainer John Quinn said: "This year he has improved a stone on the Flat and he had to improve a stone over hurdles to be a real Champion Hurdle horse. Looking at that you'd say he has improved.
"It was great. I enjoyed it immensely, especially when he jumped the last. There's the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and I've also put him in the Istabraq Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29. That's a possibility.
"Then he'll have another run, then he'll go for the Champion Hurdle. He's gone on every ground and he's looked a good horse on every ground. Every trainer needs a good horse and I'm glad for the yard."
O'Regan said: "It's great to ride him. I haven't had a Grade One winner for quite a while. Dougie (Costello) normally rides him but he's gone to Newbury for the Hennessy. I've seen Dougie ride this horse brilliantly.
"He told me everything about the horse the other day, how he jumps and how he settles. Dougie told me how to ride him and he's such a lovely horse. I'm so pleased I was on him today, but he's Dougie's ride.
"He was very impressive today and he's a serious horse. He wouldn't be without a chance in the Champion Hurdle."
Cinders And Ashes' trainer Donald McCain felt the going was the reason for his horse's defeat.
He said: "He was beaten by the ground going past here (winning post) for the first time.
"What could we do? We couldn't just keep him in his box. If we are looking for the ground then I'll think we'll have to go to Kempton for the Christmas Hurdle. It would be the obvious choice.
"Nothing I've seen today will stop us going there on good ground."
Sky Bet cut the winner to 12/1 from 20/1 for the Stan James Champion Hurdle in March.