No Douvan and gloom at Punchestown
Willie Mullins hailed Douvan "as good as we've ever had" after another scintillating display in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle on the opening day of the Punchestown Festival.
After making it three from three for the champion trainer in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham last month, it was little surprise the French import was a prohibitively priced 1-6 market-leader to end a tremendous season on a high, with Supreme third, Sizing John, rated his biggest threat.
Ruby Walsh cut a confident figure throughout the Grade One event and loomed ominously alongside the strongly-ridden Sizing John in the straight.
Once given his head, Douvan sealed the deal in a matter of strides and passed the post seven and a half lengths clear without being extended.
Mullins won this race with subsequent Champion Hurdle hero Faugheen a year ago, while the mighty Hurricane Fly claimed the third of his 22 top-level victories to date in the 2009 renewal.
The master of Closutton believes Douvan could be the be the best of the lot, but whether he will remain over hurdles or go chasing next season remains unclear.
Mullins said: "He could be anything. He's way more efficient jumping than Faugheen ever was, or is, and that from a novice is extraordinary, really.
"He's just been like that all season and at home he has answered all our questions.
"He's an amazing athlete. He also has size and scope as he's almost 17 hands. He's extraordinary.
"We didn't know what he was but we knew he was better than anything else when we put him against the novices. Gail (Carlisle) rides him all the time and every time he came up the gallop he was quicker than anything else.
"I can't wait to get him over a fence but I'll have to chat to connections.
"Rich (Ricci, owner) has Faugheen for the Champion Hurdle but it's a nice problem to have.
"Some hurdles you didn't even notice him come off the ground - when Ruby gave him a squeeze he flicked into overdrive.
"He has to be as good as we've ever had. He's not a Hurricane Fly type, he's a chaser.
"We'll put him away now and decide whether he'll stay hurdling or go chasing."
The Mullins team also claimed top honours in the BoyleSports Champion Chase with apparent third string Felix Yonger.
Passed over by Ruby Walsh and Paul Townend in favour of Champagne Fever and Twinlight respectively, 5-1 shot Felix Yonger benefited from an excellent ride from Danny Mullins to get the better of 40-1 outsider Baily Green by half a length.
"That's great for Danny. He went off to America the last two weekends and rode four winners. He's riding out of his skin," said Mullins.
"We thought it was a very open race going out. Ruby said Champagne Fever slipped going into the first and was never right after. Paul said Twinlight hit a wing in mid-air and his race was gone then.
"Felix Yonger is a good horse. They are calling it good to yielding but there is a lot more good in it and that suits him so I thought he might come into it. It didn't surprise me.
"We'll probably put him away now."