Darlan and AP McCoy wing the last on their way to a well-earned victoryPICTURE: Martin Lynch (racingpost.com/photos)
Darlan leads home a
1-2 for Henderson
Report: Aintree, Friday
Tangle Teaser Top Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m½f 4yo+
NICKY HENDERSON got his Aintree meeting up and running here with a 1-2 led by 7-4 favourite Darlan, who struck under Tony McCoy in the Synchronised colours of JP McManus.
Stablemate Captain Conan (Barry Geraghty) chased him home in second, while the yard's third runner, Oscara Dara, finished fourth. Paul Nicholls' Prospect Wells filled the places in third spot.
Darlan was immediately shortened for the Champion Hurdle after what was in the end a convincing victory, as he galloped right away from his stable companion to win by three and three-quarter lengths.
Paddy Power go 12-1 from 16s for the festival hurdle next March, while Hills make him a 16-1 shot (from 20s). It looks a route Henderson will take although the master of Seven Barrows also expects him to be chasing one day. "I suspect he might stay over hurdles for now, but one day he'll jump a fence," he said.
"We knew it was going to be a slow pace but it nice to see the pair off them quicken up and go away like they did as they're both seriously nice horses."
Darlan had been out of luck on his previous two starts. He was travelling as well as anything in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in February when taking a terrible fall two out. Tough enough to come back from that, he then ran a cracker in finishing second in the Supreme Novices' at the festival and would have been closer had he not made a hash of the last that day - he was beaten just over a length.
Nicky Henderson: closed the gap
in race for trainers' title
McCoy feels there is more to come from the five-year-old. "He didn't jump as fluently at Cheltenham as he had at Newbury until that fall," he said. "That probably just knocked his confidence and in fact he gave me a better feel at Newbury than either of these last two days.
"There is options for this fellow. He's still got a bit of growing up to do and he's classy and also has the size and scope to make a chaser."
Henderson started the day over £100,00 behind Nicholls in the fight for the trainers' championship, but this result narrowed the gap with Prospect Wells' third place keeping the current champion's head in front.
Nicholls was happy enough with the effort of his charge. "No excuses, he was beaten by better horses on the day," he said. "Next season he will be better suited by the big field handicaps where they goflat out. A good summer's break won't do him any harm either. I did think about running him over two and a half miles tomorrow but Simonsig put me off."
As for the title fight, Henderson seems perfectly relaxed about the situation. "It's fun and there's an awful lot to play for," he said.