Hermes Baie dominates Grande Course as the brave Klassical Dream battles for second place | Horse racing news

Race Station/Scott Burton

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Winning relations with Hermes Baie after its landslide victory

Race Station/Scott Burton

By Scott Burton, France Correspondent

French champion trainer Francois Nicolle landed a third Champion Hurdle in five years, although arguably not with the horse most expected as Hermes Baie delivered a knockout blow to rivals while the reigning queen of Auteuil L’Autonomie came home 12 lengths behind her stable mate in third.

Klassical Dream split the pair, who were likely uninvolved for much of the three-and-a-half-mile mile as they struggled to keep tabs on the main group.

Trainer Willie Mullins paid tribute to the horse’s bravery as he battled under Paul Townend to beat all but Hermes Baie, who were still seven points ahead of the line.

Race Station/Scott Burton

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Klassical Dream and Paul Townend set off for the Grande Course de Haies on a hot day in Auteuil

Klassical Dream and Paul Townend set off for the Grande Course de Haies on a hot day in Auteuil

Race Station/Scott Burton

Armed with his customary balaclava, Klassical Dream prowled the parade ring ahead of the race, Townend only stepping up when his seven rivals were already gone.

Mullins revealed the headgear, which was part of the campaign to make the six-time Year 1 winner content with remaining trips, was a key part of his troubled time in the race.

“We were just hoping to calm him down, but I’m not sure he faced his balaclava in this heat,” Mullins said. “He was very dead to himself and Paul felt that halfway through the race he might not finish.

“He seemed to change his mind in the second half of the race and went for it. Looking at where he was at halfway through the race, I was very happy that he finished second. I thought he was going to be worse than fourth, so it was a very brave race.”

Mullins added: “In this heat it’s very difficult. I had a lighter balaclava for him but it didn’t sit properly on him and then we changed before the race.”

Klassical Dream stablemate Kemboy made a bold bid under Rachael Blackmore but was caught in speed by the directors coming off the backstretch and finished sixth, while Tornado Flyer never traveled at no stage and came home seventh.

But the day belonged to Nicolle and Bertrand Lestrade, who won the last two Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris but did not ride in the big race on Sunday.

“Bertrand was quite ambitious going up against the mare from the back but only the real ‘cracks’ can do what Hermes Baie did today,” Nicolle said.

“Autonomy had come a long way since they met three weeks ago and look what he did to her there. I didn’t give Bertrand any orders other than not to let him die out otherwise he would forget to wake up.

“I will speak with the owners about Autumn but I would probably choose to stay with him on the obstacles.”

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