Djakadam takes Durkan in style
Djakadam reminded everyone of his inexorable talents with a beautifully measured front-running triumph on his return to action under Ruby Walsh in yesterday's John Durkan Memorial Chase.
Having run his heart out to be second to Coneygree in the Gold Cup last March, Willie Mullins' relentless mud-lover was then put firmly in its place by last year's Durkan hero Don Cossack at Punchestown in April.
Drier ground and a rival that had simply begun to flower combined to undo him on that occasion. Don Cossack has since confirmed his status as a Gold Cup contender of real merit.
Back on his favoured heavy conditions over what might be considered an inadequate two-and-a-half-mile trip at a more wintry Punchestown yesterday, Djakadam did likewise, bossing the field at will under Walsh en route to pulling 12 lengths clear of stablemate Valseur Lido.
Gilgamboa kept on gamely to ensure that each of the first three places were filled by horses making their seasonal comebacks, but this was all about the winner. Djakadam, sent off the 7/4 favourite, travelled smoothly and fenced with aplomb for Walsh.
From the time that Walsh asked him to stretch from the third-last fence, the result looked a formality, notwithstanding that the loose Hidden Cyclone, an early casualty, did briefly threaten to complicate the issue.
While Valseur Lido tried valiantly to pursue Djakadam, doing so nearly cost him second in the end.
The comprehensive Rich Ricci-owned winner was cut to as low as 6/1 from a high of 10/1 to go one better at Cheltenham next March, which means that he is trading as short as anything else for the race in places.
"I couldn't be happier with both horses," the champion trainer said of the first two home after securing a second win in three years in the €85,000 Grade One.
"Both will come on a lot, so I am delighted. I wasn't happy with Djakadam earlier on in the week and if this race had been in England, I wouldn't have run him, same as Un De Sceaux. But it was on our doorstep so I was happy to wait, and it was some performance in the circumstances."
Mullins indicated that no decision had been made on where Djakadam would go next, but the Lexus Chase seems the obvious target. "That is probably the race for him," Walsh admitted, "but he will have to step up again, as it is looking like a hell of a race. He jumped super today and it was nice to be able to start him off over that trip. There is a long way to go but he was second in a Gold Cup to a very, very good winner."
The all-conquering duo ended the day with an almost routine treble that paid combined odds of just 6/1.
Yorkhill won as well as an 8/15 shot should on his hurdle bow in the two-and-a-half-mile maiden, while Pont Alexandre's facile victory in the beginners' chase constituted a training feat of mammoth proportions even by Mullins' rarefied standards.
On his first start since finishing third to The New One at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival 998 days previous, Ricci's talented seven-year-old looked as good as ever. An SP of 4/6 suggested that the display was as expected as it was emphatic.
"That was very good coming off his lay-off," Mullins conceded. When asked about his Cheltenham target, he quipped in reference to this year's novice Gold Cup victor: "He has the ability to be a Coneygree! The whole thing now will be about keeping him right, though.
"I don't know if he will run at Christmas because it's only a few weeks away, and it would be a similar story with Yorkhill. We'll see how they are."
Mullins, who indicated that Un De Sceaux would skip the rescheduled Hilly Way Chase at Cork on Sunday and wait for Leopardstown at Christmas, suggested that the RSA Chase might be Pont Alexandre's race. He was duly introduced at 20/1 for that by Boylesports.
Pont Alexandre was the last of five successive winning market leaders on the card. JP McManus' Denis Cullen-trained 9/4 shot A Great View took the opening novices' hurdle in fine style under Barry Geraghty, while Jessica Harrington's Oscar Sam readily justified being backed from 11/4 into 6/4 in the handicap hurdle.
Oscar Sam's rider Robbie Power later completed a double aboard Sumos Novios. Liam Burke's injury-prone staying chaser didn't start favourite, but he was punted from 6/1 into 9/2, and he could vie to emulate Djakadam in next month's Thyestes Chase.
"I thought he'd need it today," said Burke, who was gifted Sumos Novios following the death of its owner earlier in the year. "The owner's wife has no interest and sold the horses, but she gifted me this fellow because he has had so many problems. The Thyestes might be the race for him now."