Impressive Vroum Vroum Mag revs up the Cheltenham options
Vroum Vroum Mag enhanced her Cheltenham Festival claims with victory in the OLBG.com Mares' Hurdle at Ascot - but for what race in March remains uncertain
Sent off the 4-6 favourite, the Ruby Walsh-ridden seven-year-old was trying the near three-mile trip for the first time and handled it with aplomb, taking her unbeaten record for Willie Mullins to eight.
Dropped out in the early stages and given a patient ride throughout, Walsh had taken much closer order rounding the final bend and jumped the second-last in front.
Coming to the last the only danger was in front and while she was not overly fluent, she just had to be momentarily shaken up to readily see off fellow Irish raider Jennies Jewel by three and a half lengths.
Owned by Rich Ricci, Vroum Vroum Mag is William Hill's 4-1 second-favourite for the Mares' Hurdle (from 8-1) and 9-2 second-favourite for the World Hurdle, also from 8-1.
The same firm make her 3-1 from 6-1 to win any race at this year's Festival.
Walsh said: "I was in front an awful lot longer than I wanted to be on a mare with so much speed, but she travelled really well and jumped really well.
"She has loads of ability, she quickened up at the back of the last, not like a stayer, more like a speed horse.
"That (World Hurdle) is another big step up again, but she's done everything we've asked her to do.
"She has a big, big engine."
Mullins said: "I would have been disappointed if she had been beaten, coming here I didn't have any worry about her ability on the ground or over the trip, it was just whether there was something better to beat her.
"Possibly the English mares didn't run up to scratch today, because I think Jennies Jewel on ratings would be a fair bit behind us.
"She's fast, she jumps well and she stays - that's why you can put her into any trip, she relaxes and goes to sleep in a race and you switch her on when you want her."
Mullins added: "It gives us lots of options for the Festival, I imagine she will go for one of the hurdle races.
"We'll see when we get home, but we've got the Mares' Hurdle and the World Hurdle."
Ricci indicated plans for Vroum Vroum Mag at Cheltenham would be closely linked to Annie Power.
The latter is widely expected to go for the Mares' Hurdle in which she fell last year, but could go for the World Hurdle if Mullins is able to get a prep run into her following an injury setback.
That could then mean Vroum Vroum Mag heads to the Mares' Hurdle.
Ricci said: "I was very nervous as it is a big weekend for us, I wasn't worried about the trip, Ruby didn't have to ask her a lot, but it is the first time I have seen her pushed and for her to come off the bridle.
"I'm a bit worried Jennies Jewel was second, actually, but he just asked her for a bit of a push really.
"She has got the World Hurdle and the Mares' Hurdle, so it puts us in a very good mind for Cheltenham.
"A lot depends on whether Annie Power gets another run. If we can get her another run before Cheltenham she will be hard to beat in the World Hurdle off her rating. But the problem is can we get a run into her? I'm not sure we can.
"I'm sorry for punters, but we just have to live with that uncertainty."
Mullins said of Annie Power: "I'm very happy with her, she worked this morning, I didn't see her, but I didn't hear that she worked badly, so I assume she worked OK and she is still progressing.
"I'd imagine it would be a much harder task to go the World Hurdle without a prep run."