Colonel Mustard will be aimed at the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle after further demonstrating his class with a fine run in defeat at Ascot on Friday.
Lorna Fowler’s six-year-old took on Nicky Henderson’s much-vaunted Jonbon in the Grade Two Kennel Gate Novices’ Hurdle, starting at 8-1 with the latter the even-money favourite following comfortable victories in a point-to-point, a bumper and a maiden hurdle.
The race began at a very sedate pace as no one appeared willing to make the running, but Jonbon eventually took up the lead and found his toughest rival to be Fowler’s gelding, who pursued the winner all the way to the line and was beaten two and three quarter lengths.
“He ran a huge race, like all of the others he wasn’t suited by no pace early on. But everyone was in the same boat,” said Fowler.
“What I loved about him at Ascot was the way he just really ran to the line, he finished behind an exceptional horse but I couldn’t be more pleased with him.
“He wasn’t annihilated by any means, he pressed Jonbon and he made sure he had to extend a bit to go and win the race.”
The journey across to Berkshire was a fact-finding mission for Colonel Mustard’s connections, who wanted to travel to Ascot to see how their chestnut coped with both the trip from Fowler’s base in County Meath and the high-calibre competition in the race.
Confident that he managed well in both regards, Fowler is now hoping for further improvement from the French-bred son of Makfi.
“I do think there’s no doubt our horse will be better suited by a stronger pace and a stiffer test of stamina, and probably a bigger field to carry him,” she said.
“We brought him over to see how well he travelled and to be honest, to find out how good he was and if he was up to the top level.
“From what he did at Ascot he has not been found wanting, he ticked every box that I wanted and I was so happy with him.
“He has grown up a lot, he’s always been a bit of a Jack the Lad. You’ve had to do a bit of push and pull to keep him sweet.
“He’s basically Flat-bred, Mafkis could have a reputation for not being straightforward but he’s come through the teenage years and I think he’s come of age this year.
“He came of age coming out of Punchestown when he was second in the Grade One there. He’s still very lightly raced for a six-year-old and I definitely think there is more to come and better to come, for sure.”
Colonel Mustard is headed in the direction of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March – for which Jonbon is the hot favourite – and is expected to run once more on home turf beforehand.
The Grade One Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival in February could be his next outing, with a Listed two-mile novice hurdle at Punchestown the following week also under consideration.
“Ultimately we still have our long-term goal of the Supreme, nothing is set in stone but that’s an obvious target for him,” said Fowler.
“In the meantime I wouldn’t want to travel him again before Cheltenham, so I would run him either in the Grade One at the Dublin Racing Festival or there’s a Listed race the following week, a Listed novice hurdle.
“I’ll keep those as my two options as they would both tie into Cheltenham.”
Colonel Mustard remains in good form following his Ascot exertions, a run that was his sixth consecutive start under jockey Conor Orr.
“He arrived back on Saturday night, he was really happy to be home and he’s been in the paddock,” said Fowler.
“He’s just 10 feet tall, he really, really enjoyed himself.
“Him and Conor are a good partnership, Conor knows him and I think the jockey knowing the horse makes a difference.
“Both of them were 10 feet tall, as they should have been, and I hope that confidence just takes them forward to do even better next time.”