Darlan and Tony McCoy are in charge as the clear the final hurdlePICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Darlan surges to victory in the Christmas Hurdle
Report: Kempton, Wednesday
Williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m, 4yo+
DARLAN produced a sharp turn of foot at the end of a steadily run contest to run out a convincing winner of the Christmas Hurdle.
The performance prompted bookmakers to make Darlan the new favourite for the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. BetVictor go 7-2 (from 10), Paddy Power and Boylesports 4-1 (from 10).
Darlan had twice been denied the opportunity to run this season by heavy ground but trainer Nicky Henderson finally let him take his chance and he showed what we have been missing with a tremendous performance.
Stablemate Punjabi, running for the first time in 978 days, set off in front although he was hardly in a hurry and set modest fractions under jockey Barry Geraghty.
Punjabi was still jumping and travelling well up front and skipped over the third last ahead as Countrywide Flame, Cinders And Ashes and Darlan moved into contention.
Nicky Henderson: impressedPICTURE: Getty
Countrywide Flame nosed into the lead rounding the home turn but Darlan was travelling ominously well for Tony McCoy and took over at the second-last hurdle.
It was a one-horse race after that. Darlan surged clear under McCoy and cleared the last hurdle comfortably to gain an easy victory. Raya Star ran on for second.
Henderson said: "We had to break cover in the end as one cannot see this weather changing. It's been the same for six weeks and I can see it being the same for another six weeks so we had to come out.
"He was fit enough but you didn't have to be that fit today as it turned into a five-furlong race. The form is solid enough. The only thing that makes it suspect is the pace of the race but he showed there that he has gears."
Trainer Alan King is considering taking on Darlan again in the Champion Hurdle with Raya Star and said: "I was very pleased with that. He was only going to be fifth or sixth turning in, then outstayed them for second.
"I should think he'll go for the Champion Hurdle, with one more run beforehand. Next year he'll be novice chasing, whatever happens at Cheltenham."