Laurina set for Champion Hurdle after a leisurely Sandown stroll
If Laurina's ears were burning after her 48-length defeat of Sensulano in what turned out to be a one-sided match for the Unibet Mares' Hurdle, it was nothing to do with the margin of her bloodless victory but the post-race comments of her trainer, Willie Mullins, and jockey, Ruby Walsh, at Sandown yesterday.
The mare, 18-length winner of the Trull House Mares' Novice Hurdle at last year's Cheltenham Festival, was already second favourite behind two-time winner Buveur D'Air for the Champion Hurdle and was left unchanged by most bookmakers after a race in which she never had to come out of second gear.
However, both men, neither of whom is in the business of hyping a horse up unnecessarily, were glowing in their praise, and although Walsh, who was riding her for the first time, joked that you should never take too much notice of what Mullins says just after a race, the trainer all but confirmed Walsh would opt to ride Laurina in the Champion even though he also has recent Leopardstown winner Sharjah and last year's runner-up Melon to choose from.
"Every time Ruby took a pull, she just wanted to go faster," said Mullins.
"He said she didn't take a blow afterwards. Ruby has never ridden her before, so he's not in a position to tell me if she has improved, but she is better than Annie Power and Quevega at the same stage.
"I'm not worried that there was no competition - a winner's a winner. "It was her first run on testing ground - there were some fit four-year-olds out on their feet earlier. But she's a natural, good jumper and getting her to Cheltenham sound is our main priority now.
"She will be entered in the Irish Champion, but it might come a bit soon."
Walsh said: "It was bound to be half-tactical, so we planned to go a good, even gallop, and that's what we did. She was a bit fresh. She was entitled to be, but I couldn't slow her down. I couldn't get her to expend less energy. She's a really good mare. She's unbeaten, and you never know where the ceiling is going to be.
"It's like Altior. We still don't know how high he can soar. Whatever Willie wants to do with her [run her again or go straight to Cheltenham], I'll be happy."
Colin Tizzard's terrific Christmas has lasted the full 12 days. He took the Grade One Unibet Tolworth Hurdle with the 3-1 shot Elixir De Nutz who made all under Tom O'Brien to beat the Paul Nicholls pair, Grand Sancy and Southfield Stone, half a length and three and a quarter respectively.
The favourite, Rathill, who hated the ground and lacked the experience, was in fourth place. "He's toughed it out," said Tizzard. "Going from the front like that he's got to be tough. The thing is he gets away from his hurdles so fast and gets a length at every one. I don't think if he was held up he could do that.
"If he'd folded into second, no one would have blamed him. He's had a tough race, and we'll save him for the three spring festivals now."
He added: "He's not slow, so I think we'll stay at two miles in the Supreme. I don't see why we need to change. You need a lot of stamina in a two-mile race at Cheltenham."
The day's most valuable race, the Unibet Veterans Handicap Chase, went to Houblon Des Obeaux for the very in-form Venetia Williams. The 12-year-old, who arrived in her yard aged three and has been a mainstay ever since, came home 15 lengths clear of Theatre Guide.