Darlan pictured winning at Aintree earlier this year
©Healy Racing Photos
Darlan (3/1) gave Nicky Henderson a fifth win in the williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, producing a dazzling display under Tony McCoy.
Connections had been concerned about the testing ground for the JP McManus-owned gelding but he was always travelling strongly in a tactical affair and showed a blistering turn of foot to settle matters in a couple of strides after the second last.
From then on it was only a matter of how far Tony McCoy wanted to win by and at the line he had four-and-a-half lengths in hand of nearest pursuer Raya Star (8/1).
There seemed no excuses for last year's leading novice hurdlers Countrywide Flame and Cinders And Ashes, Darlan comprehensively reversing Supreme form with the latter.
He is Sky Bet's new favourite for the Stan James Champion Hurdle, 4/1 from 9/1.
McCoy said: "The race was run at a slow pace and Nicky said to be aware and ride him handy. I was just keeping out of trouble and making sure he got a nice run.
"It's nice that he won and his jumping was pretty good on the whole.
"We will let Nicky decide (on plans) and speak to the boss (McManus). He will be pleased he won.
"He looks like a smart horse and I'm pleased we got him and no one else."
Henderson said: "We've always thought he had a lot of ability.
"That was a funny old race. I didn't expect Punjabi to make it (the running), but they might have been there all day if Barry (Geraghty) didn't take the lead.
"Although he (Darlan) was good at Aintree, you wouldn't think he'd be suited by a sprint, but he's beaten them fair and square.
"There's Grandouet and Binocular to fit in, but you'd think he'll have one more run before Cheltenham.
"I think he'll be a chaser one day, but that will come further down the line."
Alan King said of the runner-up Raya Star: "I was delighted. I thought turning into the straight he'd be fifth or sixth, but he's outstayed them."We'll probably give him another run before the Champion Hurdle."