Benie Des Dieux demolishes rivals to land French Champion Hurdle
For Willie Mullins this has been a season when nothing really got going until March, but which now cannot last long enough after Benie Des Dieux added to his rich spring with a decisive defeat of odds-on favourite De Bon Coeur in the French Champion Hurdle.
Even the jolt of saying farewell to his longtime number-one ally Ruby Walsh seems not to have halted the Mullins juggernaut and, from the moment Paul Townend turned in aboard Benie Des Dieux, a fifth win in France's Champion Hurdle looked on the cards.
Townend said: "That went as smooth as it can. She got a little bit keen the first time around when Melon was running very free beside us, but the second he went by us, she dropped the bridle again.
"She travelled everywhere and picked up really nicely off the bend. She saw out the trip very well in the end."
It was a first try at anywhere near the 3m1½f trip for Benie Des Dieux and, more intriguingly, a first test against geldings in eight starts since joining Mullins, a quirk which meant the French handicapper had her rated a whopping 37lb inferior to De Bon Coeur, a mare who has been virtually unbeatable at Auteuil.
Asked how confident she could be in mixed company, Townend added: "It was an unknown, but she gets the allowances and I suppose having a hard race two weeks ago at Punchestown and then travelling wasn't ideal. But that just goes to show how good she is."
Mullins said he had been happy enough to bring Benie Des Dieux at the head of a five-strong challenge despite the quick turnaround, and was rewarded for his faith in Rich and Susannah Ricci's mare.
"That's the way the calendar is and sometimes you've just got to do that," said Mullins. "If you have championship horses you have to run them in the championship races. To me, you have to take your chances.
"I was very surprised to see her do that. I was hoping she could be a good second to De Bon Coeur so I'm delighted she was able to win like that."
Paddy Power cut Benie Des Dieux into 8-1 (from 16) for the Stayers' Hurdle next March, but Mullins was his customary wary self when it came to making future plans.
"At the start of this season connections maybe wanted to go chasing, but the hurdling route suits her," said Mullins. "If the right race comes up over fences I'll go that way, but I never make a plan. I prefer to take it month by month, see how the horse is and see what's there."
Mullins indicated that both fourth-placed Bapaume and Mr Adjudicator could come back in three weeks for the Grade 2 Prix la Barka, but all plans are on hold for the moment as far as De Bon Coeur is concerned.
"Bravo Willie!" was trainer Francois Nicolle's first reaction before giving a frank assessment of his stable star's performance.
"She hasn't run up to form and I have really been struggling to get her properly back since her foot problem [in the second half of last year]," said Nicolle. "Now we have to make further examinations and if she is suffering with something serious, we'll stop.
"If it's nothing too bad we'll treat her and come back. But she hasn't been the same mare as before, less energetic and less fluid at her hurdles.
"She's looking after herself and she won this race by 16 lengths last year whereas there, she didn't progress from the distance she beat the other French horses in her prep race last month."
Read The Briefing from 8.30am daily on racingpost.com and the Racing Post mobile app with all the day's latest going, weather, market moves and non-runner news