On the face of it, only one of the novice hurdle winners at Taunton yesterday could be described as breathtaking. The first, after all, was returned at 200-1; and the second, sent off at odds-on, won by only half a length. But the manner of Darlan's success was such that he stole the show even from the eye-watering starting price of Lights Of Broadway.
Barry Geraghty restrained Darlan on the bridle even as Ruby Walsh went into overdrive on Jump City, taking sadistic relish in his Irish compatriot's efforts as he coasted up the run-in with a narrow but unchanging advantage.
Darlan had been forced to work much harder to preserve his unbeaten record on his previous start, and this looked a fairly low-key test for a horse with Festival aspirations. But he is now 14-1 from 20-1 with the sponsors for the William Hill Supreme Novices' Hurdle, despite Geraghty's pointed refusal to get carried away afterwards.
"My horse probably made it look easier than he did it," he said. "He's definitely one of those that if you give him a kick in the belly, he'll find a bit, but I'm not sure he's going to sprint clear." With so many other smart novices in the yard, Geraghty's studied caution makes it conceivable that Nicky Henderson may have a big handicap in mind instead.
Sam Waley-Cohen, who rides Long Run for Henderson in the silks of his father, had another frustrating day. The amateur is already serving 15 days of suspension, spread over the coming weeks, after that fiasco at Fakenham last month and has now picked up another three for his use of the whip on Time For Spring. Waley-Cohen gave the eventual runner-up three swift reminders to guarantee a big leap two out, and so earned a ban for not giving his mount time to respond. The dates of his ban narrowly avoid both of Long Run's potential Cheltenham rehearsals, at Newbury or Ascot next month.
As for 200-1 Lights Of Broadway, trained by Jo Hughes, she had been beaten out of sight in heavy ground on her only previous start over hurdles. "I'm not a gambler," Hughes said. "But I did think she was capable of running well, and the better ground and the shorter trip helped."
Chris McGrath's nap: Bianca De Medici (3.55 Southwell)
Has taken to blinkers, likewise to this surface, travelling strongly before flattening out close home over an eighth furlong last time. Return to this trip looks ideal.
Next best: Laffan (2.25 Southwell)
Proved better than the rating he picked up in three quick summer turf spins when switched to AW for last week's handicap debut and can shrug off his penalty.
Where the money's going
Monksland is 14-1 from 20-1 with Paddy Power for the Neptune Novices' Hurdle in March.