There is a world of difference between the midsummer elegance of French Oaks day at Chantilly, to the backdrop of the Grandes Ecuries and petit château, and a wet winter afternoon's jumping in the Cambridgeshire mud alongside the A14. But the pretty filly A Media Luz finally made the transition with her first hurdles victory since her transfer from the stable of Yannick Fouin in Maisons-Laffitte to that of Nicky Henderson in the more robust environment of the Lambourn Downs.
The four-year-old, who had finished a creditable sixth in the Prix de Diane on her last outing in her homeland, has always been highly regarded as an obstacles prospect chez Henderson, but had a somewhat roller-coaster introduction to her new craft. First time out at Cheltenham, she proved too headstrong, running away with no less a rider than Barry Geraghty; next up at Newbury she had the misfortune to come up against her own more talented stablemate Grandouet; and at Kempton last month she was poised for victory only to take a crashing fall.
Here yesterday, though, she restored her reputation as, once again aided by the calming effect of a pair of blue sponge rubber earplugs, she outclassed her four rivals, settling kindly for Geraghty before galloping home powerfully by 18 lengths. All went well, possibly even too well.
Her prime target at next month's Cheltenham Festival is not the Triumph Hurdle, for which Grandouet is favourite, but the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle, for which she has now hardened at the head of the market. "I hope that hasn't screwed up Plan A," Henderson said. "I'm worried that she looked a bit too impressive today. I don't think it was a very good race and I hope the handicapper sees that. I'd rather not run her in the Triumph; the Fred Winter is where she belongs. Grandouet beat her comfortably at Newbury and there's no reason to doubt that form."
A Media Luz provided Henderson with the milestone of his 1,999th domestic jumping winner; the landmark of the 2,000th may be found at Kempton this afternoon, where his three runners include the classy chaser Punchestowns. If it does, it cannot be honoured in time-honoured Seven Barrows style, for in February the trainer takes an annual pledge. "I'd like to have celebrated it when it comes," he said, "but I'd rather not have to wait until next month."
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Stormy Weather (3.00 Musselburgh) On the same mark as when fifth at last year's Cheltenham Festival. On ground that suits should be good enough.
Ravethebrave (4.20 Kempton)
One to watch
Fourjacks (T Easterby) Found one too good on last week's hurdling debut, but only just and will hit the target.
Where the money's going
Ruby Walsh is 11-10 favourite with Ladbrokes to make it four Cheltenham Festival jockey titles in a row.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Sweet Irony (2.35 Kempton)