Cheltenham is very much on the minds of connections of both Hurricane Fly and Taquin De Seuil as Grade One victories on Saturday put them firmly in the championship mix.
The Festival will be old ground for Hurricane Fly as he aims to regain the crown he relinquished in the 2012 Stan James Champion Hurdle.
He went out with a whimper that day but has roared back to his best this term, with victory in the Istabraq Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown his 13th success at the highest level.
The Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old will head for the Irish Champion Hurdle on January 27 after stretching away for a seven-length verdict from last year’s winner Unaccompanied as the 1-5 favourite.
“He’s a much more settled horse all round this year, with age and racing. He will come back here for the Irish Champion Hurdle before going to Cheltenham,” said Mullins.
“If we can get him back to Cheltenham in the same form that he’s in now, he’ll have a very good chance.”
On a memorable afternoon for the Mullins family, the trainer’s son Patrick broke the long-standing record for the most wins in a calendar year by an Irish amateur with a double.
He went one ahead of Billy Parkinson, who rode 72 winners way back in 1915, when steering home Zuzka for his father in the IBTA Fillies Scheme EBF Mares Hurdle.
Jumping into the lead at the second-last, the 11-10 favourite quickened clear to score by six and a half lengths from Burn And Turn.
“To achieve the record on the second-last day of the year was extra special,” said the rider.
“I owe it all to Dad of course. We had such a great summer and it wasn’t until September that we thought there might be a chance of making an attempt at the record.
“I have to thank Ruby (Walsh) as well as he let me ride Zuzka today. I’m just lucky to be in a position to ride these horses.”
His father said: “It is fantastic and I am delighted for Patrick. I would like to thank all our owners who have supported him over the year.”
The amateur capped a memorable day with an easy win on Outlander (9-4 favourite) in the Thornton’s Recycling Flat Race to give his father a treble.
Staying was the name of the game at Newbury where Tony McCoy gave Taquin De Seuil a peach of a ride in the Betfred Mobile Sports Challow Novices’ Hurdle.
McCoy and trainer Jonjo O’Neill were recording their fourth victory in 11 years in the Grade One heat which has frequently proved a guide for future stars through the likes of Denman, Diamond Harry and Bindaree.
Taquin Du Seuil (13-8 favourite) was taking the natural step up from an easy Grade Two success at Sandown and managed to finish nine lengths clear of Easter Day despite flattening the final flight.
Only beaten once in four starts since arriving from France, he looks likely to be rested until the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
“You’d have to be looking that way,” said O’Neill.
“He doesn’t mind that ground, but I’d say he’d be as good a horse on better ground.
“He’s just a lovely horse to have around, we have never had a problem with him since he came.
“He’ll have a holiday now and might not run until Cheltenham.”
My Tent Or Yours had inflicted Taquin Du Seuil’s only British defeat at Ascot in early November and he was also in action in the Betfred Mobile Lotto Charity Introductory Hurdle.
However, the 4-11 favourite finished four and a half lengths adrift of his Nicky Henderson-trained stablemate Chatterbox (5-1).
“One went in the ground and one didn’t,” said Henderson.
“I still think My Tent Or Yours is a very good horse. I felt Chatterbox was not as mature and he’ll only be having a quiet season.”
Charlie Longsdon has been dumbfounded by Pete The Feat’s progress since he arrived from Anna Newton-Smith’s yard as the 15-8 favourite rattled off a five-timer in the Betfred Mandarin Handicap Chase.
The Chipping Norton trainer saddled two runners, with last year’s winner Rey Nacarado snatching third, but there was only ever one horse in this long-established race as Noel Fehily kept his mount up to his task to finish five lengths clear.
“He has been a revelation – I don’t think I’ve ever had one win five in a row,” said Longsdon.
“I didn’t want to run both in the same race but the owners wanted to come here and that’s fine.
“In a way it’s better to have first and third than first and second, as if you have first and second you’ve missed out on winning a race.
“I think Pete The Feat would go better on better ground. It’s all a bonus now but I might try to find him a regional national somewhere.”
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