Alexandre The Great
Ian Brindle takes a closer look at some of the big performances from the last weekend.
By Ian Brindle
Last Updated: 18/12/12 2:12pm
A couple of months ago, some commentators were suggesting that Willie Mullins was having a quieter season than usual, but the County Carlow handler has simply steamrollered the opposition during December and much of it has been down to a mercurial ability to train horses to the day.
The Grade 1 Navan Novice Hurdle proved a case in point as for the third time in five years; the yard pitched up a runner against an apparently bombproof favourite and came away with the spoils.
Pont Alexandre, as his name might imply, has a pedigree that is cosmopolitan to say the least.
His sire, Dai Jin is a son of the legendary Peintre Celebre, and while born in Britain, his big moment was to come in the Derby at Hamburg, rather than in the one that takes place on Epsom Downs.
His mother, Panzella, never saw the racecourse, though she is a daughter of Prix Kergolay winner, Ponte Brolla.
The Ricci family may have had to shell out significantly more than the 15000 euros he realised as a yearling, but their handpicked purchase is clearly held in high regard by Mullins given the alumni of the race he contested.
Much of the pre-race talk regarding Don Cossack proved a welcome foil for the Mullins camp and the fall of the favourite was unfortunate.
That said, he was comfortably held and had already made a couple of small errors through getting in close to the hurdles.
From an ante-post perspective, it will be interesting to see where it leads him in the Gigginstown pecking order.
Noel Meade made little secret of the fact that he wanted to run Road To Riches in the race, and the Cork winner could well accede to the throne in the division.
It was not a good day at the office for Gordon Elliott or Davy Russell, for whom three falls should probably have invoked a submission.
Un Beau Matin has to go down as desperately unlucky in the Grade 2 Tara Hurdle and a clear round should bring recompense.
It's no exaggeration to suggest that the race was someway beneath the levels it reached during the era of Limestone Lad and Solerina, and if anything it continues to surprise that one or two of the British trainers haven't cottoned on to the idea of running for these pots rather than attempting the "impossible" against the likes of Big Buck's.
Back on this side of the Irish Sea, the victory of Zarkandar in the Grade 2 StanJames.com International Hurdle predictably saw his price contract for the Champion.
Recent stats are against him going on to post victory back there in March, but even in receipt of 4lb from Rock On Ruby, this assignment was never a gimme for the Paul Nicholls inmate.
Critics will correct point out that he had the valuable edge of race fitness over his two market rivals, but in fairness, he probably didn't have the race run to suit, and this was some of the softest going that he'd experienced in public.
Comedy Of Errors was the last reigning champion hurdler to win this prize way back in 1973 so his eclipse might not have been a surprise to all; though the decision of some bookmakers to jettison him out to a double figure price is perhaps more so.
Nicky Henderson may have seen Grandouet weaken out of that contest but there was nothing weak about the performance of Oscar Whisky in the Grade 2 Osborne House Relkeel Hurdle.
Having interviewed Henderson ahead of last season's World Hurdle, I was taken by his overt enthusiasm about taking on Big Buck's so that below par showing on the day would probably have been a big shock to him as any.
We learnt no more about the horse from Saturday's run but I wonder if anyone in the horsebox heading back to Seven Barrows might have bemoaned not going for the International instead.
Though he's cut his cloth as a stayer, Oscar Whisky is certainly not slow.
A true athlete in every sense of the word, he was good enough to finish third to Hurricane Fly in the 2011 Champion, and has won two Aintree Hurdles when racing prominently around the notoriously speedy course.
I wouldn't be closing the book on the idea of dropping back in distance just yet.
There were lots of chasing performances to dissect but my eye was taken by the run of Rocky Creek in the Healthwatch Doncaster Novices' Chase at the South Yorkshire venue.
The Paul Nicholls-trained six-year-old had suffered the misfortune of coming up against Harry Topper on his chasing debut at Exeter, and while that ensured that cramped odds were on offer on his second attempt to get off the mark, he duly delivered against a field that included a Cheltenham Festival winner and a Grade 2 winner at Ascot.
With its imposing fences and long run for home, Doncaster is a good test for an improving horse, and his trainer is no stranger to doing so as Harry the Viking had won the previous renewal before going on to be second in the four miler at the Festival.
A couple of minor errors were the only blemishes on his round, but one couldn't fail to be impressed by the nimble and quick way in which he got from one side of the fence to the other. His ability to stay should see him winning more races.