The Nicky Henderson-trained Darlan (5g Milan-Darbela, by Doyoun) jumped into favouritism for next year’s Champion Hurdle after a hugely-impressive victory in the G1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Wednesday.
J P McManus’s five-year-old, who was bred by Martin Kilroe, was making his seasonal comeback as he led home a G1 1-2 for Milan when beating Raya Star (6g Milan-Garden City, by Shernazar) by four and a half lengths under A P McCoy.
“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. It’s nice that he won and his jumping was pretty good on the whole,” McCoy told PA Sport.
Henderson added: “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.
You’d think he’ll have one more run before Cheltenham and I think he’ll be a chaser one day, but that will come further down the line.”
Raya Star could be heading for rematch at Cheltenham with trainer Alan King reporting: “I was delighted. I thought turning into the straight he’d be fifth or sixth, but he’s outstayed them. We’ll probably give him another run before the Champion Hurdle.”