In winning the Challow Hurdle at Newbury, Souffleur has some impressive hoofprints to follow. Two seasons ago none other than Denman took the novices' Group One prize, last year it was Wichita Lineman, and before them the likes of Cornish Rebel, Bindaree, Large Action and Bonanza Boy.
So this is a race with a distinguished pedigree, and the way Souffleur dealt with his rivals yesterday he won by six lengths from Elusive Dream suggests he too will go on to better things. The four-year-old's name is French for prompter (his sire is In The Wings), but he needed few reminders from Tom O'Brien as he cruised into the lead going to the penultimate obstacle.
"I probably got there a bit soon," said the rider, "but he followed through his effort all the way to the line."
Souffleur has made remarkable progress since being recruited from the Flat 14 months ago for a bargain 5,000 guineas. He has won four of his seven hurdle races, has risen more than 3st in the ratings, and now has the Ballymore Properties Hurdle at Cheltenham as his target.
"He was very slow to get going over hurdles," said his owner-trainer, Peter Bowen. "Very green to start with and it took him a while to get the hang of it. Now he is a real professional."
That Souffleur may be but, with just the 11 outings, he is only an embryonic one compared with the battle-hardened, top-class types who faced each other in the December Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown. Before yesterday the six runners had raced 151 times between them for 49 victories and earnings of 2,112,853. On this occasion it was Al Eile, driven by Timmy Murphy to tackle thetrailblazing Hardy Eustace and the favourite, Jazz Messenger, going to the last, who prevailed.
It was the seven-year-old's third Grade One success, but his first at two miles. "He's been up against all the good horses since he was three," said his trainer, John Queally. "This year he's the real deal." Hardy Eustace, the winner of two Champion Hurdles, has his official 11th birthday on Tuesday and lost no caste in his length defeat. He deprived Jazz Messenger of second by a neck and took his career haul to over 1 million.