By Racinguk.com staff
The Willie Mullins-trained five-year-old held a big reputation long before he made a winning start to his jumping career at Leopardstown in January and an impressive display followed by some bullish reports ensured he was joint-favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham.
While the chestnut gelding came up short in the Festival curtain-raiser, he ran with plenty of credit to fill the runner-up spot behind Labaik, before finding only stablemate Cilaos Emery too strong in the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown the following month.
He was the 2-5 favourite to make a winning return to action in this two-mile Grade Two and was settled in behind his stablemate Coquin Mans and Wakea for much of the two-mile journey.
Wakea dropped away rounding the home turn, leaving the two Mullins inmates to fight it out and Melon was winning the argument when he pecked on landing after jumping the final flight.
Thankfully for favourite-backers, the mistake did not halt his momentum, and he galloped on to score by a fairly comfortable four and a half lengths.
RaceBets cut Melon to 12-1 from 16-1 for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, and Walsh said: "He was a big, raw horse last year and did exceptionally well to do what he did.
"He has strengthened up considerably; he's a bigger, stronger horse. He was only a frame of a horse last year. He looks a more robust, stronger horse now who is improving with age. It was a good performance to beat race-fit horses in Coquin Mans and Wakea.
"He has to keep improving but it is a good starting point. He quickened up well.
"Paul (Townend on Coquin Mans) kind of stretched me at the top of the hill. I had a couple of lengths to make up on him and he closed it down quick."
When asked if he would get two and a half miles, Walsh added: "He probably will but I don't know if he will have to. I'd rather have him than be looking at him."