Much of the focus within the novice hurdle division this season has been targeted at Envoi Allen, but it was another point-to-point graduate, Asterion Forlonge, who announced himself on the scene as a big Cheltenham hope.
A wide-margin maiden hurdle winner at Naas last month, the grey has made big strides over hurdles this season, but faced his biggest test to date on his maiden outing in Grade 1 company in Sunday’s Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle.
Sent off as a 4/1 shot, Joe and Marie Donnelly’s six-year-old set a very strong gallop in the two-mile contest racing alongside the wide-margin Christmas winner Easywork.
That tempo saw his rivals one by one begin to falter, but the grey was able to maintain that gallop as he relentlessly hit the line with nine and a half lengths to spare over Easywork.
Just like Saturday’s impressive Grade 2 Bumper winner Appreciate It, Asterion Forlonge also won his four-year-old maiden for Pat Doyle, and he is now the 7/1 second favourite for the Ballymore Novices Hurdle behind Envoi Allen.
“I'm surprised and I'm delighted. I had him down as a two-mile-and-six or three mile horse,” said Mullins.
“The last day he won at Naas was a mile-and-seven. I had a three-mile horse down in Cork and he got beaten so I said to myself 'now I've this fella in the wrong race over two'.
“It looks like I'm wrong and he's a two-miler. He has a huge cruising speed and I said to Danny 'go out and make the running, you're not making it for our other two you're making it for yourself so try and get the fractions right'.
“He's never fast at home but he obviously covers a huge amount of ground and can keep that gallop up for two miles flat out.
“Looking like that he looked like he could be a Supreme Novice horse and that was the furthest thing from my mind three weeks ago.
“We'll see what happens. I think this fella can stay, I think he's easy enough to ride. I always had him down as a stayer. If the owner has something else for the Supreme we can chat it out.”