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Flying Footpad takes the high road to head of Arkle market

Footpad and Paul Townend jump the last to beat Petit Mouchoir
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This was equine ballet at its most elegant. 

Footpad is so light on his feet that fences barely break his stride and he blissfully glided his way to odds-on favouritism for the Racing Post Arkle. It was beautiful to watch. 

Paul Townend's smile said it all. His stint as a substitute for the injured Ruby Walsh has had its ups and downs, but Footpad gave him some respite at Christmas and did so again here. 

"He jumps like a stag, you'd swear he's been jumping fences all his life," beamed the winning jockey. "It was a great thrill riding him, he was deadly!

"I thought it was a really good performance and he did it the hard way, making all his own running."  

Bookmakers reacted to this beating of Petit Mouchoir by five lengths in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle at Leopardstown on Saturday by cutting him for the showpiece two-mile novice chase at Cheltenham, with bet365 and Sky Bet prepared to offer only 4-5, with BoyleSports on their own in being unmoved by the display - they go a best-priced 5-4.

Willie Mullins was not willing to parachute him to the same stratosphere as Douvan or Vautour just yet, but did express his satisfaction with the performance and stressed that all roads now lead to the Racing Post Arkle.

The trainer said: "He did it the hard way and jumped well in front. I think he pecked a bit at the last but it was a very good performance. We didn't set out to make it but Paul wasn’t happy there was enough pace so went on.

"We're heading for the Arkle unless something else changes. He was fourth in a Champion Hurdle but we thought he'd be going two and a half miles or more over fences. The first day he jumped he was very good, and when you can jump you can go any trip."

Perhaps the most interesting reflection of all came from Davy Russell, who rode Petit Mouchoir.

"I know he's run well but to be honest I'm a bit disappointed as we thought he was the best at the start of the season and now it looks like there's one better than him," said Russell with refreshing honesty.

The front pair essentially had the race to themselves from halfway. Any Second Now and Tycoon Prince were having a battle for third at the last, when Tycoon Prince fell, leaving Any Second Now to finish 19 lengths adrift of Petit Mouchoir.

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He jumps like a stag, you'd swear he's been jumping fences all his life. It was a great thrill riding him, he was deadly
E.W. Terms