State Man continued his march towards a likely clash with Constitution Hill at the Cheltenham Festival in March with victory in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown on Thursday.
Ridden by Paul Townend, the 4-6 favourite won the two-mile race by four and a quarter lengths from Vauban, with Sharjah third. All three horses are trained by Willie Mullins.
The success made it a hat-trick of Grade One wins for State Man, who is 4-1 with Coral for the Champion Hurdle, with Constitution Hill 2-7 favourite.
Nicky Henderson’s Constitution Hill is long odds-on to lift the Champion Hurdle crown in March following his latest demolition job in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.
And while the unbeaten five-year-old’s entourage are unlikely to be quaking in their boots, State Man gave further evidence he may well prove his biggest threat with an authoritative display.
A well-backed winner of the County Hurdle in the Cotswolds last season and successful on his reappearance in last month’s Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown, State Man lined up as favourite in the feature event on day four of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival.
Sharjah, ridden by the champion trainer’s son Patrick, was bidding to better hurdling legends Istabraq and Hurricane Fly by winning a remarkable fifth successive Matheson Hurdle, and yet he was only third in the betting at 6-1, behind State Man and his Triumph Hurdle-winning stablemate Vauban at 11-4.
Rank outsider She Is Electric took the field along for much of the two-mile journey, but predictably folded before the home turn, at which stage Townend allowed State Man to stride into the lead.
The strong-travelling Vauban travelled into his slipstream at the top of the straight, but State Man soon found another gear to pull clear.
Those involved with Vauban will doubtless take plenty of encouragement from what was his first outing of the season and first start outside of juvenile company, while Sharjah was not disgraced in third.
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