'Awesome' Sceaux in Arkle romp
Willie Mullins summed up the mood perfectly as he hailed Un De Sceaux "awesome" after a scintillating display of raw power and jumping accuracy in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown.
With his front-running style earning him seven wins from as many starts over hurdles, the seven-year-old began the campaign as one of the most exciting novice chase prospects of recent years.
His fencing career did not get off to the best of starts as he came to grief when miles clear at Thurles, but he got back on track at Fairyhouse last month and was an 8-11 favourite for his Grade One debut.
Un De Sceaux was soon adopting his customary role in the hands of Ruby Walsh, albeit perhaps slightly more harnessed than has been the case in the past, and some bold leaps kept up the heat.
Gilgamboa was feeling the pinch when making a mistake in the back straight and although Clarcam went in pursuit jumping the second fence from the finish, Un De Sceaux engaged overdrive rounding the home turn to leave him toiling.
Another fine leap at the final fence sealed his 15-length success, with Clarcam, already a Grade One winner over fences and receiving 10lb from the market leader, holding off Gilgamboa by half a length for second.
RaceBets make Un De Sceaux the 10-11 favourite from 2-1 for the Arkle at Cheltenham on March 10, with Paddy Power going 4-5 from 2s.
Mullins said: "His jumping was fantastic today and he looked reasonably settled.
"He's passed the test today and the Arkle will be his target at Cheltenham.
"He was quite calm today and if he can repeat that performance (at Cheltenham) he will be tough to beat.
"He can stand off or he can stand anywhere. I thought he was awesome."
Walsh said: "They're two good horses behind him, Gilgamboa and Clarcam.
"We went a good, honest gallop. I think the boys thought I might go a bit faster, but I thought I was going plenty quick.
"He jumped really well. He was good and brave down the back, he was very clever at the second-last and he quickened away from them and won very well at the death.
"For a front-runner that does everything on the bridle and going forward, he does find. He doesn't stop. You know there's a bit in the tank."