State Man took his record in Grade One races over hurdles to seven wins from eight starts with a comfortable success in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown on Friday and will be fancied to add another in the Irish Champion Hurdle in February, but he remains a 4-1 chance to avenge the only top-level defeat of his career – a nine-length beating by the exceptional Constitution Hill – when he returns to the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

It is one of many measures of Constitution Hill’s freakish talent that he dispatched an opponent of State Man’s quality with such ease at last year’s Festival meeting. Impaire Et Passe, a stable companion at the Willie Mullins yard and the winner of last season’s Ballymore Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham, was a fresh opponent for State Man in Friday’s contest, but the odds-on favourite still put the race to bed in a matter of strides on the run to the final flight.

Several bookmakers subsequently cut the price of both Constitution Hill and State Man for the Champion Hurdle on 12 March, reflecting the fact that Impaire Et Passe’s odds were pushed out to around 14-1 (from 7-1). Constitution Hill, meanwhile, is now top-priced at 4-11 with William Hill, with State Man available at a general 4-1.

“State Man showed tremendous gears today,” Mullins said. “Daryl [Jacob] came in on Impaire Et Passe and said, ‘we quickened twice and then Paul [Townend, on State Man] quickened away again a third time.’

“He ran a great race last March finishing second to Constitution Hill. Hopefully he will be around [at the Festival] to keep Constitution Hill straight, but I don’t think [his trainer and owner] Nicky Henderson and Michael Buckley are going to be worried.”

It was another fine afternoon for Mullins at Leopardstown as he left with two more Festival favourites after decisive victories for Ballyburn, in the card’s maiden hurdle, and Grangeclare West in the Grade One Neville Hotels Novice Chase.

Ballyburn finished 25 lengths clear of his field and was cut to around 9-2 for the Ballymore Novice Hurdle on 13 March, while Grangeclare West, who cost nearly £500,000 as a four-year-old after winning his only start in a point-to-point, is around 4-1 for the three-mile Brown Advisory Novice Chase the following afternoon.

Grangeclare West was the fourth-favourite in a six-strong field but recorded an easy six-length success.

“I didn’t expect that,” Mullins said. “I thought he would run well, but that was a top race.

“Paul was worried about him pulling too hard and he’d want to be as fit as he is, because he just pulled his arms out for the three miles. To do that, on that ground and win like that going away was a huge performance. His jumping was excellent, he’s just a natural chaser.”

Nico de Boinville, Nicky Henderson’s stable jockey, is likely to face a short spell on the sidelines after suffering a suspected collarbone injury in a fall over hurdles at Doncaster on Friday.

James Bowen, the No 2 at Henderson’s yard, will replace De Boinville on two significant runners for the Henderson yard at Newbury on Saturday: Willmount, in the Grade One Challow Hurdle and Jeriko Du Reponet, the ante-post favourite for the Supreme Novice Hurdle in March, in the Introductory Hurdle earlier on the card.

Captain Teague can land Nicholls fourth Challow in a row

Willmount made one of the more visually impressive hurdling debuts of the season so far when he pulled 13 lengths clear in a novice event in early November, but the second and third horses home have done little to advertise the form and he looks under-priced at around 7-4 to make a successful step up to Grade One company in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday.

It is even arguable whether he should really be the clear favourite, as Paul Nicholls’s Captain Teague (3.00) was an impressive winner at Grade Two level on his first start over timber and the best horse at the weights when second under a 5lb penalty in a similar event at Cheltenham next time.

Nicholls has saddled the last three Challow winners, including the subsequent top-class chasers, Bravemansgame and Stage Star, and while it is still early days for Captain Teague, he is too big at around 100-30 to extend the stable’s outstanding recent record in this contest.

Newbury 1.15 Venetia Williams’s stable remains in strong form and Martator showed more than enough when second to a potentially very useful novice over course and distance last time to suggest that a first win since joining this yard is imminent.

Haydock 1.25 The step up to a marathon trip could well see significant improvement from Collectors Item. Jonjo O’Neill’s gelding found a second wind in the closing stages over three miles at Sandown last time, has been dropped 1lb since and looks certain to appreciate the extra half-mile here.

Newbury 1.50 A switch to front-running back over hurdles saw Get A Tonic return to winning form over course and distance following an inauspicious chasing debut and she still looks fairly handicapped on an 8lb higher mark.

Taunton 2.10 It is difficult to split the market leaders, Queens Gamble and Casa No Mento, but the latter posted a strong time when finishing 15 lengths clear at Hereford last time and that just tips the balance towards Nigel Twiston-Davies’s runner.

Newbury 2.25 Shanty Alley has been largely below his best in five starts since finishing a close second in this race last season, but is 5lb lower in the weights this time around and would have needed the run when returning to action after a 202-day break last month.

Quick Guide

Greg Wood’s Saturday tips


Newbury 12.05 Amelia’s Dance 12.40 Jerido Du Reponet 1.15 Martator 1.50 Get A Tonic 2.25 Shanty Alley (nb) 3.00 Captain Teague (nap) 3.35 Passing Well  

Haydock 12.15 Hill Of Tara 12.50 Norman Fletcher 1.25 Collectors Item,2.00 Step Above 2.35 Start In Front 3.10 Happy And Fine 3.45 San Frandisco 

Taunton 12.25 Mojo Ego 1.00 Centara 1.35 Hard Frost 2.10 Casa No Mento 2.45 Game Winner 3.20 Dindin 3.55 Individualiste 

 Wolverhampton 3.40 Graffiti 4.15 Swinging Eddie 4.45 Verdansk 5.15 Light Up Our Stars 5.45 Starshiba 6.15 Ramon Di Loria 6.45 Ebury 7.15 Swing To The Stars 

Thank you for your feedback.

Taunton 2.45 Jumping issues have held Game Winner back in two starts over fences this season and this return to hurdling looks like the right move off his current mark.

Newbury 3.35 Passing Well has made a strong start to his chasing career and a 3lb rise seems more than fair following his defeat of Heva Rose – a winner both before and since – at Lingfield in November.