GALLOPING grey Thousand Stars once again showed his liking for Auteuil yesterday when landing the French Champion Hurdle for the second year running under Ruby Walsh.
The Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old stormed past leading French hope Nikita Du Berlais after jumping the last to win cosily.
Settled in mid-division, Walsh took his time through the early stages on the 15/8 favourite as first Tanais Du Chenet, and then more alarmingly Sleeping Mat, established big leads over the field.
Turning for home Sleeping Mat still had a decent advantage over the chasing pack, which had been whittled down to Nikita Du Berlais, Formosa Joana Has and the Mullins-trained trio of Zaidpour, Mourad and the eventual winner.
Jumping two out, the pursuers began to close and Sleeping Mat had been caught before jumping the last. In the air at the same time, Nikita Du Berlais and Thousand Stars looked ready to fight it out, but just as he did last year, Thousand Stars quickened and asserted close home.
Formosa Joana Has was third with Mourad and Zaidpour fourth and fifth.
"He's an iron horse -- he's just too tough and it's amazing how he has raced from the Morgiana (at Punchestown in November) up to today and not missed a Festival," Mullins reflected. "He's so tough. To win a race like this two years in a row is just fantastic."
Earlier, the Irish raiders were out of luck as Usual Suspects took Grade One honours in the Prix Alain Du Breil at Auteuil.
Ut De Sivola, one of two Mullins-trained runners, fared best but he was only fifth behind Guy Cherel's four-year-old. Dermot Weld's Hisaabaat never threatened and was a big disappointment, while the Tony Martin-trained Wingtips was sixth and the other Mullins runner, Loch Ard, never figured and was pulled up.