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By PA Sport Staff. Last Updated: 11/03/09 4:21pm
Mikael D'haguenet wins impressively.
Talk of Gold Cups and success at the highest level over fences reverberated around the Cheltenham winner's enclosure after Mikael D'Haguenet provided Willie Mullins with back-to-back wins in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle.
The leggy gelding is now unbeaten in five starts over timber for Mullins, who had expressed reservations about Mikael D'Haguenet's ability to handle quicker ground.
But handle it he did as Ruby Walsh steered the 5-2 favourite around the hallowed Prestbury Park circuit, leading off the final bend and holding the challenge of Tony McCoy and Karabak by a length and three-quarters.
Diamond Harry jumped the second-last upsides but weakened to third, with Mouse Morris' China Rock showing improved form to finish a whisker away in fourth.
Mullins, who won the race with Fiveforthree 12 months ago, said: "Ruby said he was a machine when he got off him in Naas and said he could be a Gold Cup winner.
"We thought we was one in the yard that we could aim that way and after today I don't see any reason why not.
"He's 17 hands and I thought he'd take a year to mature.
"But when we started working him at home, he just showed a gear.
"From day one he showed he was better than we thought - this is unbelievable.
"He handled the nice ground and seemed to change his action for the better ground, and I have never seen that before. He didn't have the high action that he has had at home all winter.
"When I saw him going down to the start on the ground I was delighted, and he jumped so sharp over the first couple of hurdles.
"The plan is to go chasing next year and that is what he was bought for."
Walsh concurred with Mullins, and said: "He's a machine and he travelled far too well all the way.
"At the top of the hill when I got a gap I didn't want, he just charged into it.
"He had a look at the second-last. When they closed up around me he came back on the bridle again.
"He didn't surprise me at all and is a really good horse.
"I didn't feel him change his action. It is only when you watch the replay you realise he has a high knee action but it doesn't feel as bad when you ride him.
"Denman was a fair novice hurdler and I have sat on good ones all right. Mikael is a good horse and has done it today so hopefully he will take to fences."
The runner-up lost his place a fair way out but responded to champion jockey McCoy's urgings to make the frame on his first start in the JP McManus colours.
Trainer Alan King said: "They went a dawdle in the early stages of the race and I think that counted against us."
Diamond Harry moved up stylishly but failed to come up the hill in the same manner which allowed him to score twice at the track this winter.
His trainer Nick Williams said: "He has run another sound race but it was a bit similar to the last time here and his jockey said he emptied a bit and was a bit long at the final flight.
"Funnily enough, the betting was right. But going into the race there seemed nothing between the horses that have finished first, second and third.
"He won't go to Aintree. It was always our plan to rough him off after today and then put him over fences next season.
"Our hope is that he will come back here for the RSA Chase next year."