Pont explodes on to scene
Pont Alexandre stamped himself a potential star in running out an all-the-way winner of the feature Grade One event at Navan on an afternoon when Ruby Walsh dominated with four victories.
Having had just one win in a maiden hurdle in France, the Willie Mullins-trained Pont Alexandre came into the Navan Novice Hurdle as something of an unknown quantity, and Walsh set out to make every yard on the 3-1 chance.
The winner never saw another rival and odds-on favourite Don Cossack, who did not jump that well, was in the process of being caught for second by Busty Brown when he came down after the final flight. It was Davy Russell's third fall in three successive races and he gave up the rest of his rides.
Mullins, recording his 100th victory of the season, was landing his third win in the race in five years after Mikael D'Haguenet and Boston Bob, and Pont Alexandre was inserted as the new 6-1 favourite for the Neptune Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham by Paddy Power.
Walsh said: "He was doing things nicely at home, but you always have a little worry about them having their first run over these hurdles. Having not run for so long, it was always going to be a worry going in a Grade One. It was a good performance and he'll be a lovely chaser."
Mullins added: "He could be anything, he's a horse I love. I saw him in France in the summer and I rang my client and said to Rich (Ricci) I think I want to buy this horse.
"He wasn't exactly catching pigeons on the gallops, but in the last month when the ground got heavy he started to show me a bit. He did one bit of work this week that showed me he might be good enough and I took a chance. The winners' races are so good, I thought if Don Cossack beats us then so be it.
"He looks a real nice prospect for the future. I don't think I've ever started one off in a Grade One before. If we'd gone for a Grade Two or Three we would have met the same horses except for Don Cossack, so I just wanted the run out of the way to find out how good he is. He showed us today.
"For a horse having just his second run he jumped like a natural. We won't go back in trip but the Deloitte is two and a quarter (miles), so I might do that. He'll probably stay at two and a half and I wouldn't be afraid of three miles. It will either be the Neptune or the Albert Bartlett in March
"He won't go to Leopardstown. The obvious race would be the Slaney Hurdle at Naas, but I think I want to get Champagne Fever ready for that (same owner), so I might just wait an extra few weeks."