Mullins hints at change of plan for Lexus contender Djakadam
On the day that Coneygree's already interrupted campaign was thrown into further disarray, Willie Mullins threw a minor curveball by suggesting that Djakadam could swerve the Lexus Chase in favour of the old Pillar Chase at Cheltenham in January.
How the champion trainer and Gigginstown Stud will spread their staying chasing riches has been a topic of intense debate. A King George VI Chase briefing at Mullins' Closutton base yesterday shed some light on both angles, although plans remain fluid.
Mullins indicated that Gigginstown's Valseur Lido, well held by Djakadam on an otherwise satisfactory return in the John Durkan Chase, could join stablemate Vautour and Gigginstown's Gordon Elliott-trained Don Cossack in the prestigious Kempton three-miler on St Stephen's Day.
Don Poli - which Mullins again described as an ideal type for the Grand National - and the resurgent Sir Des Champs will represent the stable and Gigginstown in the equivalent Grade One at Leopardstown two days later.
However, the Gold Cup runner-up Djakadam, owned, like Vautour, by Rich Ricci, could wait for the Grade Two Cotswold Chase on January 30.
"I haven't totally made up my mind," Mullins said of the mud-loving six-year-old, which made its emphatic Durkan comeback just 11 days ago.
"I haven't ruled him out of the Lexus, but if he was going to run, I'd need to be stepping him up. I quite like the option at Cheltenham in January, as it gives him an extra month.
"I've been very happy with him since the Durkan. Most of them were really three-milers over two-and-a-half miles, but he was most impressive."
The three-mile-one-and-a-half-furlong Prestbury Park contest is, like the Gold Cup, run on the New Course.
Traditionally, it was a significant trial, but it has fallen out of fashion, with Looks Like Trouble the last to win both races back in 2000.
Given the renewed uncertainty over the reigning champion Coneygree, Djakadam and Vautour were last night shading joint-favouritism for the Gold Cup at odds of as low as 4/1.
All the others toward the head of the ante-post lists also shortened, with Don Cossack now a best-priced 5/1 and 6/1 the best available about Don Poli.
Noel Meade's Gigginstown-owned Gold Cup third Road To Riches is a general 16/1 shot, but his next target has still to be confirmed. In contrast to the Gold Cup betting, the on-song Don Cossack shades the King George market lead from Vautour, with Elliott's charge 9/4 to prevail on the flatter circuit and Vautour a top-priced 3/1.
Of Vautour, which was less than his usual flamboyant self when grinding out victory on his Ascot return, Mullins said: "He worked very well here yesterday; I've had no worry. When I saw what he did yesterday, I only hope he can repeat that at Kempton.
"All ours were big having their first run, and there's lots of improvement to come from all of them. I'm very happy with how the whole yard is."
The dual Cheltenham hero Vautour jumped to his left at Ascot, but Mullins feels that could be eradicated if he gets a lead at Kempton. "I've never noticed it before," he mused. "I think in a different-run race, where he doesn't have to lead, it wouldn't be an issue.
"He hasn't schooled since but he will do. He's well able to jump."
Of Valseur Lido's Kempton foray, Mullins added: "It looks like three miles there will suit him. We had a chat about the Lexus and it looks like (Gigginstown) have enough for that, so, all being well, he'll head to Kempton. I see he'd be one of the outsiders, but he'd be no 33/1 shot."
Mullins' English entries on Saturday include Renneti in Ascot's Ladbroke Hurdle. Elliott, who has won the valuable two-mile handicap twice in the past three years, has Diamond King, Hostile Fire and Vercingetorix in this time, with Meade's Waxies Dargle and Eddie Harty's Sort It Out also engaged.
Meanwhile, yesterday's lost Clonmel card has been rescheduled for next Tuesday, with Cork's itinerant Grade Three staying novices' hurdle now switched to Fairyhouse on Saturday.