"IT WAS nice to get a Grade One win with him outside of novice company - he deserved it," were the thoughts of American owner Rich Ricci after Zaidpour won the Bar One Racing Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse yesterday.
A look back on Zaidpour's form makes that point hard to argue with. Since winning the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle on the same card two years ago, Zaidpour has won four - three Grade Twos - and finished second four times.
First Lieutenant, Oscars Well, Hurricane Fly and Thousand Stars are a fair bunch of horses to finish second to and any beast could be forgiven for coming up short against such a selection over the space of a couple of seasons.
"I think the ground has to be fairly soft for us to be thinking about taking on Big Buck's at Cheltenham, though," Ricci added. "I am being realistic."
Not entirely surprising is the fact that Zaidpour has only got good ground when visiting the Cotswolds for the last two years and those two occasions are two of just three runs where he finished out of the first two over hurdles.
Therefore, Ricci's belief that he could put it up to the best jump horse around on softer conditions may be realistic, although the chances of getting his ideal ground at Cheltenham are not so.
He is nothing if not consistent and his owner was bang on the money. He did deserve that Grade One yesterday as he was undoubtedly the best horse in the race and no excuses could be offered for those around him.
In second place, Monksland ran a blinder on just his second outing out of the novice ranks, while Voler La Vedette in third is probably just not reaching the dizzy heights of previous seasons, although this is the second time Zaidpour has beaten her.
Winning trainer Willie Mullins added to Hurricane Fly's victory in the race two years ago, and admitted: "I'd imagine we will go the World Hurdle route at Cheltenham.
"He is a horse who has shown that he is good enough to run, and run well, over two miles, but also has the stamina to run over three miles, and two and a half is probably his ideal trip. Himself and Thousand Stars are probably in the same bracket."
A war against his more glittering stable companion Hurricane Fly over the festive season is unlikely but Mullins did say: "He'll be entered in all those races, but I doubt he will take on Hurricane Fly."
Boylesports gave Zaidpour a 16/1 intro into the World Hurdle, while Paddy Power traders felt what they saw warranted Big Buck's being cut from 1/1 into 4/5 for the same race.
Zaidpour was the second leg of a treble for Mullins who ended the day with victory in the bumper courtesy of Outlander, but the champion trainer instigated the three-timer in the Grade One Drinmore Novice Chase with the exciting Arvika Legionnaire.
The seven-year-old also carries the colours of Ricci and his wife Susannah and is now two from two since returning from an injury setback that forced him to miss two seasons after what was a promising, albeit not remarkable, novice hurdling campaign.
Ruby Walsh cut out the running on Arvika Legionnaire and by half-way had racked up at least a 30-length lead which proved to be unassailable, as talented opposition such as Grade One-winning hurdler Dedigout failed to even lie up with the bold front-running performance.
Success over the two and a half mile trip seemed effortless and Mullins suggested afterwards: "We will go back to two miles next time before stepping him up again and I don't see that being a problem. I will get as many runs as I can in for the experience."
It was Champagne Fever, representing the same connections of Mullins, Walsh and Ricci, who appeared to be their best of three Grade One chances yesterday, but as is often the case in racing, it was that one which got overturned.
The dual Grade One bumper winner had to settle for minor honours as Jezki continued his unbeaten record over hurdles for Jessica Harrington and Barry Geraghty.
The four-year-old became a real live Supreme Novices' Hurdle contender as he followed up two good wins at Naas to complete the hat-trick in the Grade One Royal Bond Novice Hurdle and earmark a return to similar company at Christmas, providing the ground isn't too bad.