Vautour assumed clear favouritism for the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham after getting his fencing career back on track with a facile success in the Leopardstown Killiney Novice Chase at the Dublin venue on Sunday.
Willie Mullins’ six-year-old put in a good clear round to make amends for his defeat at the same course over Christmas, where a bad mistake all but put paid to his chance.
There were no mishaps this time as Ruby Walsh let the 1-5 shot do his own thing up front. His jumping in the main was very good and he looked to have Real Steel well beaten when that horse came down at the last.
His exit left sole rival Aladdins Cave to take second spot, a very healthy distance in arrears of last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero.
Mullins said: “I think he’s back to himself. He did what he probably should have done at Christmas.
“It was a very good test. Probably in reality it was a match. The other horse (Real Steel) is rated 140 and has mixed it with the best novices.
“I think it was a just little muscle problem at Christmas.
“This fellow can go out in trip easily or go back. There is a lot of time between now and Cheltenham.
“We’ll see what Un De Sceaux does now. If he does what he looks capable of we’ll try and keep them divided. I’ll have to see what the other horses do also and talk to the owners.
“At this stage I wouldn’t think he would run again (before Cheltenham).”
RaceBets cut Vautour to 5-2 market leader from 7-2 for the JLT at the Festival in March.
Walsh completed a double when Mydor (9-4 favourite) won the Leopardstown Club Members Handicap Hurdle in cheeky fashion.
Mullins also claimed a brace as Balko Des Flos (9-10 favourite) made all under his son, Patrick, to make a winning debut in the www.leopardstown.com (Pro/Am) INH Flat Race, in the process staking a claim for the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham.
“He’s certainly qualified to go to Cheltenham and we’ll think about it and see. A strong stayer is what you need,” said the trainer.
Davy Russell kick-started the meeting with a brace in the first two races courtesy of Golan Road and Fletcher.
A fine leap at the final flight enabled Michael Griffin’s Golan Road (5-1) to score by two lengths clear in the 2015 Leopardstown Membership Mares Maiden Hurdle.
Russell always had Fletcher (5-4 favourite) up with the pace on the way to a resounding eight-length success in the Leopardstown - Racecourse Of the Year 2014 Maiden Hurdle.