- Horse Racing
Dazzling Darlan powers to Christmas Hurdle glory
Darlan put himself firmly in the Champion Hurdle picture with an impressive success in the williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle.
Connections swerved soft ground earlier in the season, but they let him take his chance at Kempton and he proved he handled it by slamming a top-class field.
Tony McCoy elected to sit just off the pace set by Punjabi, who set only a sensible gallop. McCoy started to niggle Darlan towards the end of the back straight, but turning for home Nicky Henderson's charge came back on the bridle.
A smart turn of foot took him to the front and he powered clear between the final two flights. Favourite Countrywide Flame and Cinders And Ashes had no answers as Darlan stormed away to take the Grade One prize with real authority.
"We've always thought he had a lot of ability," Henderson said. "That was a funny old race. I didn't expect Punjabi to make it (the running), but they might have been there all day if Barry (Geraghty) didn't take the lead.
"Although he (Darlan) was good at Aintree, you wouldn't think he'd be suited by a sprint, but he's beaten them fair and square. There's Grandouet and Binocular to fit in, but you'd think he'll have one more run before Cheltenham. I think he'll be a chaser one day, but that will come further down the line."
Dynaste produced a superb round of jumping to land the Kauto Star Feltham Novices' Chase. David Pipe's charge had created a huge impression in his two wins over fences and he reinforced that feeling with a brilliant display. He jumped superbly for Tom Scudamore, pulled his way into contention down the back straight for a second time and powered away in the home straight to put himself firmly in the picture for RSA Chase glory at the Cheltenham Festival.
"He has done it very well again and you could not fault him," Scudamore told Channel 4. "There are probably a lot of jealous people watching. He is straightforward and you can do what you want on him."
Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty kicked off the Kempton Boxing Day card in style as River Maigue produced a slick display to land the William Hill - No.1 Downloaded Betting App Novices' Hurdle. The contest is often won by a smart performer and River Maigue travelled with authority before powering away between the final two flights to beat New Year's Day with a deal of authority.
"I know he has won a point-to-point but he doesn't want to go further than two miles at the moment," Henderson said. "We'll potter along and see what we do."
Long Run's rider Sam Waley-Cohen secured a pre-King George VI Chase boost as he partnered Rajdhani Express - trained like Darlan and River Maigue by Henderson - to a facile success in the William Hill - Download The App Novices' Handicap Chase.
Arvika Ligeonniere made every yard of the running to retain his unbeaten record over fences in the Racing Post Chase at Leopardstown.
Paul Townend set out to make all the running in the Grade One prize and he found a willing partner in Arvika Ligeonniere who jumped superbly. Willie Mullins' charge started to tire after the final fence, but stuck on well to fend off Oscars Well.