Darlan catapulted himself to the head of the ante-post market for the Stan James Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on March 12 with an authoritative performance in landing the Grade 1 williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, writes Elliot Slater.
Now a rock solid 4/1 favourite (from 10/1) in the Betfair horseracing betting after his Kempton win, the JP McManus-owned gelding looks the one to beat despite the presence of the likes of former champions Hurricane Fly and Rock On Ruby, as well as fellow Cheltenham betting tips and rising stars Grandouet and Zarkandar, and could hardly have been more impressive under multiple champion jockey Tony McCoy as he travelled like a class act throughout the two-mile contest.
Despite a mistake at the third from home the five-year-old, whose only previous defeat in completed starts was when a close runner-up to the smart Cinders and Ashes in last season’s Supreme Novices Hurdle, was soon back on the bridle and quickened impressively into the lead at the penultimate flight before easing away from the upwardly mobile Raya Star to score by four-and-a-half lengths, with Dodging Bullets third and the favourite Countrywide Flame, a disappointing fourth.
Although the contest was run at a dawdle for the first mile prompting suggestions from some quarters that the form might not prove wholly reliable, winning trainer Nicky Henderson felt his charge could hardly have done any better, showing a fine turn of foot in the heavy ground that should stand him in good stead in the heat of the championship battle to come.
Tremendously impressively when defeating the smart Captain Conan in Grade 2 company at Aintree last April on good ground, the better the surface at Cheltenham the better chance Darlan would appear to have, having predominately raced on a sound surface before overcoming the Kempton mud to land his first top-flight success.