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It's V for a Vautour victory

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Vautour

Vautour

Vautour

If most trainers were given one Christmas wish it would be to wake up with a team of horses like Willie Mullins.

 The abundance of equine talent that resides at his Closutton base seems to be getting stronger by the weekend as he unleashes new recruits from France or the Irish point-to-point fields and the line-up of his Christmas runners is enviable, to say the least.

On St Stephen's Day alone Mullins will have runners in the Grade One and Grade Two at Leopardstown, in two Grade Ones at Kempton and the Grade Two at Limerick and you wouldn't get life-changing odds on him winning the lot.

While Mullins concentrates on getting the horses to their intended targets without a hitch, his stable jockey Ruby Walsh has to weigh up where the best place to go is and even with both horses at Leopardstown set to be long odds on, it is no surprise that Walsh is opting to ride Champion Hurdle hope Faugheen and potential Gold Cup contender Champagne Fever in the two Grade Ones at Kempton.

BREAK

Indeed, Walsh has never actually ridden a winner at Leopardstown on St Stephen's Day and admitted that leaving Vautour behind in the Racing Post Novice Chase this Friday would break his heart as the horse is "absolutely bombing" in the words of the jockey. Vautour is one of the 'A-listers' of this Christmas period and is expected to wow a packed Leopardstown and keep his flawless record intact.

Since joining Willie Mullins from France, Vautour has ran six times and won each of them and in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham he simply eclipsed a classy field with a memorable front running display which announced him as a real potential star of the future, while at Punchestown he was redirected from the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at the start of the week to the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle, because he had a little setback, yet still managed to beat a good horse in Apache Stronghold by three and a half lengths.

Vautour has such a glowing reputation that he is still 1/3 favourite despite only having one previous run over fences, but that run was a faultless one at Navan when he eased to an eight-length success over Clarcam. While Clarcam is a good horse, who will be getting an 11lbs allowance from Vautour for being only a four-year-old, there's absolutely nothing to suggest that the form will be turned and Vautour should have another 1 at the end of his impressive string of form figures come Friday evening.

Walsh will also be leaving the current Triumph Hurdle second favourite behind at Leopardstown as Kalkir is due to make his second start in Ireland for Willie Mullins in the Grade Two Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle.

The same combination of Mullins, jockey Paul Townend and owner Rich Ricci combined when Blood Cotil justified short-priced favouritism in 2012, but Kalkir could prove to be a far more exciting prospect and similar to Vautour and Clarcam, it's hard to see here how Dai Bando, who was second to Kalkir last time out, will reverse the placings from Fairyhouse.

At Kempton the mood seems to be extremely optimistic about the chances of Faugheen and a shade more apprehensive regarding Champagne Fever.

Faugheen also has an unbeaten record to protect and the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle winner will look to steal the limelight away from Champion Hurdle favourite The New One with a win in the Christmas Hurdle that sees Irving as his closest rival and if Faugheen is to be considered a serious Champion Hurdle contender, he'll have to be accounting for him.

DIFFICULT

For Champagne Fever, it's more difficult. He is taking on proven Grade One stayers whereas he remains unproven over the trip and for an unknown reason he has ran bad in December or January every season of his career.

He has always been seen as a Gold Cup horse though and now is his time to prove he warrants a place in that line up. Hopefully he will.


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