Mullins to consider Vautour for £1m 'Triple Crown' target
Willie Mullins' Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Vautour is as low as 10/1 to complete the £1m Kauto Star 'Triple Crown' that was relaunched yesterday, but the champion trainer has refused to commit any of his elite team to the initiative.
The Rich Ricci-owned six-year-old, such a stunning JLT Chase victor at Prestbury Park last March, has already been spoken of as an athletic chaser in the mould of the mighty Kauto Star.
That comparison could be put to an early test, after the decision of Jockey Club Racecourses (JCR) to offer the lucrative bonus which Kauto Star earned after winning the Betfair Chase, the King George VI Chase and the Gold Cup in an unforgettable 2006-'07 season.
Mullins had already indicated that the Kempton Christmas showpiece would be a likely mid-season target for Vautour en route to an intended tilt at the blue riband event in March. However, he had nominated Punchestown's John Durkan Memorial Chase as a likely prep race on December 6.
Asked if the restoration of the £1m incentive - discontinued by Betfair after Kauto Star's triumph - would prompt a change in plans to take in the first leg at Haydock a fortnight earlier, Mullins would not be drawn.
"It is a good initiative and it is great of JCR to put it up," he said as he made his way back from Australia, where he had made a fleeting visit to watch his Melbourne Cup contender Max Dynamite do a "very pleasing" gallop.
"I'm looking forward to maybe having something to contest it, but I am not going to speculate because we are not very far forward with the horses. The ground is very dry, so I am not even thinking about where my winter horses are going to have their first runs until I can get some work into them.
"It is always a problem at this time of year, but we have to be patient. Death, taxes and rain are the three certainties in life in Ireland, so it is definitely going to come."
With last year's Gold Cup runner-up Djakadam and RSA Chase winner Don Poli also in his care, Mullins has three leading Gold Cup prospects. Given his preference for keeping his big guns apart, the Haydock race - in which has never had a runner - would likely have entered his thinking anyway.
Mullins has suggested that his Champion Hurdle hero Faugheen will be targeted at the Morgiana Hurdle on November 15 and that Annie Power could begin her season in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse two weeks later, with the Mares' Hurdle her ultimate objective come March.
While broadly welcomed, the decision to announce the resurrection of the initiative less than six weeks before the first leg did raise some eyebrows.
Sara Bradstock, wife of Mark, who trained Coneygree to run out such an emphatic winner of the Gold Cup in March, indicated that they would probably stick to their initial plan to start the reigning champion back in the Hennessy Gold Cup on November 28.
"If Newbury came up fast and Haydock was perfect, the £1m bonus might sway us, but we won't go there because of it," Bradstock stressed.
Meanwhile, a Ballydoyle statement has suggested that a decision on Gleneagles' participation at Ascot on Saturday could be made after Aidan O'Brien walks the course on Friday. If conditions are deemed too soft, the statement added, "permission will be sought from Southwell racecourse to work Gleneagles, before a possible tilt at the Breeders' Cup Classic".