Lady has the look of a Champion

FEATHARD LADY stormed to the forefront of the Smurfit Champion Hurdle picture as she extended her unbeaten run to seven under a peach of a ride from Ruby Walsh in the Stan James Christmas Hurdle at Sandown yesterday.

The blue riband has been dominated over the last two seasons by Irish raiders and following this 12-length triumph over Self Defense, there are now five horses from Ireland in the top seven in the betting for the big one in March.

Walsh never had an anxious moment on the 6-4 chance as he completed a double following the earlier success of Hoo La Baloo on his first day back from a shoulder injury sustained at the end of November.

So impressed were the bookmakers by the stylish display of Colm Murphy’s mare that she is as short as 5-1 (from 16s) for the Champion with Coral.

Murphy has the luxury of also training Brave Inca, who is set to clash with his stable companion in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on January 29.

Murphy is relishing the prospect of seeing his stars cross swords and is still surprised at the huge improvement shown by Feathard Lady, who had won a Fairyhouse handicap under top-weight on her previous outing.

“I admit I’d have been surprised if she hadn’t run well today, but to win the way she did is really something else,” he said.

“At home nothing can get her off the bridle and I wouldn’t know how she compares with Brave Inca as they are like chalk and cheese.

“He’s a gentleman and she’s a pure lady. He’s a big, gross horse but she takes her work in her stride.”

Feathard Lady is owned by the Lord Of The Ring syndicate, which comprises a dozen people who frequent Butler’s Sports Bar in Fethard, and Murphy added: “The boys all drink in the same pub and are hoping she can go all the way.

“The Champion hurdle is obviously the big target, but the Irish champion is the next stop when she will meet Brave Inca.”

Walsh oozed confidence and was in control when jumping his mount to the front two out, where Royal Shakespeare was not so fluent.

The combination then pulled clear, with Self Defense catching the latter for second on the run to the line.

Emma Lavelle, trainer of the runner-up, said: “He keeps running well in these sorts of races and surely it won’t be long until he wins one.

“He is definitely the toughest horse I have trained, but how can you not be impressed by the winner?”

Royal Shakespeare’s trainer Steve Gollings said: “The key to him is the ground. He travelled much better than I expected him to considering all the rain they have had.

“He’ll have a little break now and then we will look for another race in the (BHB) Order of Merit.

“He’s probably got Inglis Drever to beat in that but it is a nice prize and we’ll be giving it our best shot.”

Darkness is the new favourite for the Royal & SunAlliance Chase following his dramatic success under Tony McCoy in the Stan James Feltham Novices’ Chase.

Turning for home in the £70,000 contest, Darkness looked a lost cause as he was last of the five runners and being vigorously ridden as Zabenz and Bewleys Berry made the best of their way home.

For the leaders it turned out to be a long way home, however, and Darkness made stealthy progress after the second-last to join issue at the final obstacle and pull three lengths clear of Zabenz, who held Bewleys Berry by a head for second.

Charlie Egerton nominated Cheltenham as the next port of call for his 13-8 winner and said: “He’s definitely better going left-handed and will go straight to the Festival. I want to take him there fresh.”

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