Racehorses seldom stick to the script as scrupulously as Tataniano did here at Cheltenham yesterday. Seconds after Sizing Europe had coasted over the line at Punchestown, in the process setting a merciless standard in this division, the tapes went up for the 10th running of the Independent Newspaper Novices' Chase – and Tataniano promptly produced a performance that already makes their projected showdown here in March something to warm the cockles during long evenings in the meantime.
Paul Nicholls, the champion trainer, had saddled Tatenen to a runaway success in the same colours last year, but preferred to compare Tataniano to another of his previous winners, Azertyuiop, who went on to win both the Arkle Trophy and the Queen Mother Champion Chase itself. "Tatenen was always a hype horse," he said dismissively. "He's slow, wants three miles. He was flat out in the Arkle and he was flat out here on Saturday. This one is more in the mould of Azertyuiop. He has all the speed in the world."
Tataniano certainly handled the fences with remarkable alacrity, barely breaking stride as he hurtled from one to the next. True, he only had three pursuers and the most competent of them, Fosters Cross, was clinging to his coat-tails, about three lengths down, when slipping and unseating three out. But it was difficult not to be impressed with the energy Tataniano retained for the hill, never in any danger as Pigeon Island toiled his way into second, six lengths away.
"We did have concerns about the ground," Nicholls said, "but knew we would make the running and there's some fresh ground along the inside. He will only have one more run before the Festival, probably over Christmas, because he's one of those that is better kept fresh."
"He was very sure what he was doing," winning jockey Ruby Walsh said. "He had the choke open and was going a right lick over the first couple of fences. He was very quick to take off and land. Last year we were going two and a half miles with him but he is probably a flat-out two-miler"
Paddy Power offered just 5-1 against Tataniano for the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy, but Cashman, will lay twice those odds. Nobody will be taking anything for granted with Sizing Europe on the scene, now widely quoted as 6-1 favourite.
Despite desperate conditions, Sizing Europe again looked a natural over fences jumping impeccably under Andrew McNamara before cruising home from a decent field. Henry de Bromhead, his trainer, indicated that he would probably be seen next at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting. It was two years to the day since Sizing Europe announced himself as a top-class hurdler, in a big handicap at Cheltenham. His destiny seems more explicit now, but for the moment it is one he must share with Tataniano.
Turf account: Chris McGrath
Lady De La Vega (3.40 Leicester)
Showed ability in her point-to-point and bumper education and again in the three hurdle runs required for a handicap rating. This step up in trip can allow her to show her true colours.
Wheels Up (1.20 Plumpton)
Became disappointing in Ireland but a change of stable might prompt him to confirm himself very fairly treated on his best form.
*ONE TO WATCH
Fredo (Ian Williams) evidently needed the run on his return at Stratford last month because he stormed up the hill for third behind Lord Ragnar at Cheltenham on Friday to confirm that he is handicapped to improve beyond two miles.
*WHERE THE MONEY'S GOING
Tell Massini is 14-1 for the Ballymore Properties Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival after his success over the course yesterday.