Melon leads Coquin Mans over the last
©Healy Racing Photos
By Donal Murphy
Melon led home a Willie Mullins 1, 2 in the feature at Down Royal this afternoon, the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle.
The winning son of Medicean filled the runner-up spot in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, before again having to settle for second in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.
The chestnut five-year-old was expected to go one place better this afternoon, as he went off the clear 2/5 favourite under Ruby Walsh.
Settled behind the leaders in third, he came with his challenge between horses on the run to the last. He was pushed along to lead before that flight, and despite a mistake there he recovered quickly, going on to score by four and a half lengths.
The front-running Coquin Mans finished second under Paul Townend at 9/2, while Mick Jazz was another three parts of a length back in third.
Ruby Walsh said afterwards: "He was a big, raw horse last year and he did exceptionally well to do what he did.
"He has strengthened up considerably; he's a bigger, stronger horse. He was only a frame of a horse last year. He looks a more robust, stronger horse now who is improving with age. It was a good performance to beat race-fit horses Coquin Mans and Wakea.
"He has to keep improving but it is a good starting point. He quickened up well. Paul (Townend on Coquin Mans) kind of stretched me at the top of the hill. I had a couple of lengths to make up on him and he closed it down quick."
When asked if he would get two and a half miles he replied: "He probably will but I don't know if he will have to.
"I'd rather have him than be looking at him!"<Melon is now 10/1 (from 12s) with Paddy Power for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
Additional reporting by Michael Graham