Gold Cup runner-up Djakadam lands Grade One victory at Punchestown
Djakadam confirmed himself a major player in what promises to be an enthralling Cheltenham Gold Cup with a brilliant comeback victory in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase.
It is remarkable to think that despite beating all bar Coneygree in the blue riband last March, the six-year-old might not even be the number one candidate from his own stable for this season's renewal, such is the strength in depth Willie Mullins has at his disposal.
That said, after being sent off the 7-4 favourite for his return to action in this two-and-a-half-mile Grade One, he could not have been more impressive, jumping beautifully in the hands of Ruby Walsh and coming home 12 lengths clear of stable companion Valseur Lido.
Paddy Power trimmed Djakadam to 8-1 from 10-1 to go one better in the Gold Cup next spring, with stable companions Vautour and Don Poli both ahead of him at 6-1 and 7-1 respectively.
Mullins said: "Valseur Lido will appreciate stepping out in trip and both of them will come on a lot from that run. Henrietta Knight said he (Djakadam) will win the Gold Cup, so I'll quote her.
"I wasn't happy with him during the week and was nearly not going to run, but to run like that after the way he was, I'm absolutely delighted with him. It was some performance considering everything.
"There is no decision at the moment on where he will go next."
Djakadam was the star turn in a treble on the afternoon for the formidable Mullins-Walsh combination.
Pont Alexandre (4-6 favourite), not seen since finishing third behind The New One at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, defied a near 1000-day absence to make a successful and impressive debut over fences in the Buy Your Go Racing In Kildare Badge Beginners Chase.
Paddy Power slashed him to 14-1 for Cheltenham's RSA Chase, with Mullins hinting he could be at the top of his strong team of staying novices if he stays sound.
"It was fantastic for a horse coming back from 998 days off. It showed that he retains his engine," said the champion trainer.
"Sometimes they don't come back and he looks like he's back. He jumped and did everything right.
"If we can keep them right we'll have Black Hercules, Outlander and Killultagh Vic, but he (Pont Alexandre) would be a better hurdle horse than they ever were.
"He's the one if we can keep him right. The whole thing now is to keep him right and keep four legs on him."
Dual bumper winner Yorkhill (8-15 favourite) made an impressive start to his career over timber in the Buy Your 2016 Annual Membership Maiden Hurdle
Patrick Mullins, son and assistant to his father, said: "He'll improve a lot from that experience and has a huge engine.
"He was quite keen and if he settles better can go out in trip.
"We'll find something for him around Christmas and he has the ability to go for a Grade One."
The Mullins camp were only narrowly denied a four-timer as even-money favourite Blow By Blow was touched off by Noel Meade's newcomer Tamlough Boy (8-1) in the bumper.
Barry Geraghty conjured a late run out out of the JP McManus-owned A Great View (9-4 favourite) to emerge triumphant in the Ladies Free Admission On New Years Eve Rated Novice Hurdle.
Winning trainer Denis Cullen said: "He's progressing and has done well since he won at Limerick. He's only four and should do well with time.
"He needs to step up again but we'll take small steps at the moment and see where that takes us."
Oscar Sam (6-4 favourite) made it two from two since joining Jessica Harrington with a wide-margin success under Robbie Power in the Follow Us On Facebook And Twitter Handicap Hurdle.
"He stays really well and we'll find another handicap for him over Christmas. They went a good gallop and he stayed going," said Harrington.
"His brother (Our Duke) runs at Navan (in a Listed bumper) next Sunday."
Power doubled up aboard the Liam Burke-trained Sumos Novios (9-2) in the 3 For 2 Festival Tickets At punchestown.com Handicap Chase.
Burke said: "He's a horse that has had a lot of problems and had the potential to be very good.
"He's entered in the Paddy Power but I don't think he'll get in. There is a race at Fairyhouse on New Years Day but he may wait for the Thyestes and should get into that."