State Man confirmed his status as the biggest threat to the mighty Constitution Hill by proving too strong for stablemate Impaire Et Passe in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown.
State Man has yet to taste defeat when completing over obstacles in Ireland and last season won the Morgiana Hurdle, the Matheson Hurdle, the Irish Champion Hurdle and the Punchestown Champion Hurdle.
The Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old was no match for Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, though, and while he had made a fine start to the new campaign when successfully defending his Morgiana crown last month, in Impaire Et Passe he faced a new and considerable rival from within his own yard.
The latter was four from four as a novice hurdler last season, a tally which included Grade One wins at Cheltenham and Punchestown, and although he was narrowly beaten on his comeback in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse, plenty expected him to give State Man a real run for his money at Leopardstown.
State Man was a 4-7 favourite to secure back-to-back Matheson wins, with Impaire Et Passe a 7-4 shot, and it was clear rounding the home turn that the defending champion was travelling the better of the pair having taken over from long-time leader Fils D’oudairies.
Impaire Et Passe did respond to Daryl Jacob’s urgings to close the gap, but State Man safely negotiated the final flight and did not look like being caught thereafter, with Paul Townend pushing his mount out to to the line to score comfortably by three and a quarter lengths.
Paddy Power reacted to the result by not only cutting State Man’s Champion Hurdle odds to 4-1 from 5-1, but also trimming Constitution Hill’s price to 1-3 from 2-5. Impaire Et Passe is out to 12-1 from 5-1 with the same firm.
Mullins said: “State Man showed tremendous gears today. Daryl came in on Impaire Et Passe and he said ‘we quickened twice and then Paul quickened away again a third time’.
“Daryl thought he maybe had Paul where he wanted him at the second-last and he said he quickened twice between the last two and Paul went away again.
“Testing conditions might really suit him (State Man), so we will be praying for rain over Cheltenham!
“State Man ran a great race last March, finishing second to Constitution Hill. Hopefully will be around to keep Constitution Hill straight, but I don’t think Nicky Henderson and Michael Buckley are going to be worried.
“We are delighted to win and will probably come back here for the Dublin Racing Festival (Irish Champion Hurdle), and hopefully go on to March then.”
What the rest of the season has in store for Impaire Et Passe remains to be seen, with Mullins suggesting he could seek an alternative route having proved no match for State Man over two miles.
He added: “I’ll have to have a word with his owners Isaac (Souede) and Simon (Munir), but he is worth a Champion Hurdle entry.
“Maybe we will go out in trip.”
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