Mikael the 'machine' motors home

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The Independent Online

Thr turf might stand hard as iron, with all racing over jumps in Britain again abandoned today, but there was still much to warm the cockles over the weekend. For those who did not leave the fireside, there danced before their eyes the lambent image of Denman jumping Becher's Brook in April. Those who ventured out at Naas, however, were rewarded with more tangible stimulation.

Two more winners for Willie Mullins took his score for the past month to 28, with Mikael D'Haguenet easily maintaining his unbeaten record since his arrival from France. The scene in the winner's enclosure was all shades of slate, the horse steaming in the cold drizzle, but formed part of a dazzling triptych for the stable, which houses two other golden novices in Hurricane Fly and Cousin Vinny.

So far Mikael D'Haguenet has been free to operate unmolested over the extra half-mile, unceremoniously wrecking the immaculate CV of Pandorama at Navan last month. Underdog that day, this time he was odds-on to concede weight to four rivals in the Goffs Slaney Hurdle – and the way he dismissed them left no doubt that he is an exceptional young hurdler.

His stamina was of no earthly use to him, either, as they went so slowly that the time might have been adequately recorded with a sun-dial, given better weather. Even the rank outsider was still on the bridle on the home turn, but Ruby Walsh eased Mikael D'Haguenet past Clan Tara over the last – where the freedom of his leap implied that relief finally to be going faster – and he scurried three and a half lengths clear of Western Charmer.

Perfunctory as his performance was, some bookmakers abbreviated his odds to 5-1 for the Ballymore Properties Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham. Coral left him at 8-1, however, perhaps noting that Mullins reiterated caveats about faster conditions in spring.

"If the ground comes up quick, he probably wouldn't go to Cheltenham," the trainer said. "I'm delighted with how he jumped, and how he quickened when he had to. I have no real plans. I'm lucky enough to have a few nice horses, and don't want them clashing just yet. The Deloitte Hurdle [over two and a quarter miles at Leopardstown on 8 February] is an obvious race for him, but I also have to consider Hurricane Fly for that."

Walsh reserved his judgement on the going. "He bends his knee a bit," he acknowledged. "But I'd have to ride him on good ground before I knew if he could handle it or not. Despite the fact they went no gallop, he still won on the bridle. When they go so slow it just gives them more time to think about their jumping, which sometimes is not a good thing. I think he's a machine."

The unprecedented midwinter vigour of the stable's horses – as a rule, Mullins likes to bring them to the boil for Cheltenham, rather than keep them simmering – had been confirmed by Jayo in a valuable novices' chase. It had taken him three attempts to win over fences, at Navan last month, but here he looked potentially top class, jumping superbly and cruising home. "His jumping was electric, he was like a hurdler going over them today," Mullins said. "I'm sure he's Arkle-bound after that. Possibly he'll run in both the Irish and English Arkles, but I'll have to have a look at the timing."

For now you can get 20-1 for the one at Cheltenham, which is incidentally back under consideration for Calgary Bay after his success there on New Year's Day. "He has come back very well, you wouldn't even think he has had a race," Henrietta Knight, his trainer, said. "I'm not particularly keen on bringing him back in distance for the Arkle, but that's the way we're leaning. He needs one more outing before Cheltenham, and could go to Haydock on the 17th."

Plenty of water must pass under the bridge before Denman's owners decide whether to take up the entry they have agreed to make for the John Smith's Grand National. To all intents and purposes, indeed, the water remains frozen solid until he resurfaces at Newbury next month. But confirmation that the race will be considered in principle saw his Aintree odds halved to 8-1 over the weekend.

Punters had idle hands, admittedly, after the big novices' hurdle at Sandown on Saturday was among the casualties of frost. It may yet be rescheduled, but inspections are already planned this morning for tomorrow's cards at Leicester and Sedgefield.

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