STATE Man continued the dominance of trainer Willie Mullins and piled on the misery for bookmakers at Cheltenham when powering up the hill to land a competitive renewal of the McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle.
The inexperienced five-year-old, who fell in a maiden hurdle at Christmas and gained his first success in a Limerick maiden last month, was sent off the 11-4 favourite under Paul Townend.
His rider was cool under pressure, making stealthy headway down the hill and being produced between the last two flights of hurdles.
There was still work to do to wear down Eclair De Beaufeu, who was always up with the pace, and Colonel Mustard, who approached the last in front.
Yet State Man grabbed the stands rail, as Townend had done in the opening JCB Triumph Hurdle with Vauban, and jumped the last flight on a good stride.
He soon forged a length and a quarter clear and held that advantage to the line, defying the staying-on First Street, and Colonel Mustard who was a length and three-quarters back in third.
The first three, all novices, had West Cork, who also stayed on nicely up the hill, a further two and a quarter-lengths behind in fourth.
"He did well to win and I hope he can brush up his jumping," said Mullins. "He's a horse for the Flat, and while maybe not this season certainly next. Now I am thinking the Grade One at Punchestown as the next step.
"He's a lovely horse with a lot of ability that will do both jobs."
Earlier in the afternoon, there was a clean sweep for the Irish in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, with Vauban powering to victory and leading home four of his compatriots in the Grade One that turned into a speed test.
Townend was always well placed, hunting the relatively sedate pace set by Porticello and Fil Dor before being produced wide off the final bend.
The Willie Mullins-trained Vauban was still on the bridle as he eased a length clear approaching the last and while he made a hash of it, landing on all fours, he soon regained his momentum.
Townend always had plenty up his sleeve and the 6-4 favourite drew readily clear up the stands rail to score by two and a half lengths from Fil Dor, trained by Gordon Elliott, whose Pied Piper ran on a further neck back third.
Townend said: "We always said he was a work in progress and he's improved every day and he can improve again.
"He's a bit to learn, but he's improving with every run. He's got a very big engine.
"He'll have to jump a bit slicker for a Champion Hurdle, but that can be worked out at home. He's definitely going the right way."