Willie Mullins says challenge of York may now beckon for Cheltenham winner Vauban

WILLIE Mullins is tempted to emulate legendary Ryedale trainer Peter Easterby – by running Cheltenham hero Vauban on the Flat at York.

The four-year-old put down a strong marker for next season’s Unibet Champion Hurdle by landing the JCB Triumph Hurdle under Paul Townend.

Yet the record-breaking Cheltenham trainer has made no secret of their desire to win Australia’s Melbourne Cup.

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And races like York’s Ebor Handicap were mentioned as they recalled how Easterby campaigned many of his top horses on the Flat and over hurdles – Sea Pigeon won the 1979 Ebor before landing two Champion Hurdles.

Jockey Paul Townend celebrates on Vauban after winning the JCB Triumph Hurdle during day four of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse.

“I think he will just improve with age and experience. With the flat rating he has he could contest those Cup races, I think,” said Mullins.

“The Easterbys used to go to Chester and York (with Champion Hurdle winners).

“Champion Hurdle winners in the previous generation used to go flat racing because they were top-class flat horses but those horses are bought now to go to Australia or Dubai, so it’s hard for jump trainers nowadays to get top-quality flat horses like him.”

And triumphant owner Rich Ricci appears up for the challenge. “I didn’t watch that one! I watched the last hurdle, actually, and he flattened it. He’s a proper little taxi, isn’t he? A lovely horse,” he said. “Will he be dual-purpose? I don’t know – I hope so. Five-year-olds always have a tough time in those races, but he looks like he’s got some engine. We’ll see what the time is, but I’m delighted with that.”

Vauban ridden by Paul Townend on their way to winning the JCB Triumph Hurdle during day four of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse.