DARLAN laid down his marker for top honours with an emphatic win in the williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
One of four winners on the card for trainer Nicky Henderson, the JP McManusowned five-year-old was promoted to 7-2 favourite from 8-1 for the Stan James Champion Hurdle with the sponsors.
He beat several other leading players in tremendous fashion.
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The winner’s stablemate Punjabi set a steady pace after no-one wanted to make the running.
There was all to play for as they turned for home and it was Darlan (3-1) who quickened impressively for Tony McCoy to stride away on the run to the last and score by four and a half lengths from Raya Star (8-1).
Dodging Bullets was third while the Fighting Fifth winner Countrywide Flame was only fourth.
McCoy said: ‘‘The race was run at a slow pace and Nicky said to be aware and ride him handy. I was just keeping out of trouble and making sure he got a nice run. His jumping was pretty good.
‘‘He looks like a smart horse and I’m pleased we’ve got him.’’ Henderson said: ‘‘We’ve always thought he had a lot of ability. Although he 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.’’ As well as taking the feature King George VI Chase with Long Run, Henderson picked up two races on the undercard.
River Maigue built on a promising seasonal reappearance in the William Hill - No.1 Downloaded Betting App Novices’ Hurdle.
The 4-6 favourite never looked in much danger as Barry Geraghty punched him clear to beat New Year’s Eve by seven lengths.
‘‘It was a very good run at Cheltenham and he takes an awful lot of work,’’ said Henderson.