Darlan (3-1) staked a massive claim for Champion Hurdle honours with an emphatic win in the williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
The Nicky Henderson-trained five-year-old, owned by JP McManus, became a major contender for the Cheltenham Festival championship as he beat several other leading players in tremendous fashion.
There was all to play for with two flights to jump and it was Darlan who quickened impressively for Tony McCoy to stride away on the run to the last. He went on to win on his seasonal debut by four and a half lengths from Raya Star, with Dodging Bullets third and Countrywide Flame 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. It's nice that he won and his jumping was pretty good on the whole.
"We will let Nicky decide (on plans) and speak to the boss (McManus). He will be pleased he won. He looks like a smart horse and I'm pleased we got him and no one else."
Henderson said: "We've always thought he had a lot of ability. That was a funny old race. I didn't expect Punjabi to make it (the running), but they might have been there all day if Barry (Geraghty) didn't take the lead.
"Although he (Darlan) 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. I think he'll be a chaser one day, but that will come further down the line."
Alan King said of Raya Star: "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."
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