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Davy Condon: Douvan and Un De Sceaux can get Mullins assault off to Festival flier

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Un De Sceaux and Ruby Walsh, here winning at Leopardstown, can run their rivals ragged in today's Arkle. Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Un De Sceaux and Ruby Walsh, here winning at Leopardstown, can run their rivals ragged in today's Arkle. Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Un De Sceaux and Ruby Walsh, here winning at Leopardstown, can run their rivals ragged in today's Arkle. Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

The first day is finally here and while my Festival doesn't start until I saddle up tomorrow, there's a big day's action ahead in the Cotswolds.

And while everyone starts the Festival on a equal footing, all hoping that they will get off to a winning start, I expect Willie Mullins to be standing head and shoulders above them all at the end of day one.

He has several big chances today with four hopes that could all be rated 'banker' material and my pick of them is Annie Power in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle.

Willie's record in this race is, of course, exceptional.

He has dominated here with Quevega for the last six renewals and after her retirement, you might have thought he'd struggle to find a replacement so soon. However, he has a worthy successor on his hands in Annie Power.

Good enough to run second in the World Hurdle which remains the only defeat of her career, she clearly has the class so I wouldn't be too worried by the fact that she hasn't run since last May. With Quevega, Willie repeatedly proved a master at getting one right for Cheltenham despite the lack of a recent run and he can repeat the dose here.

She'll like the ground too. We rode out on it in yesterday morning and it was officially good to soft. In other words, good jumping ground so everything is pointing in her favour.

Willie can get off to a flier in the opening race of the festival too, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

If Annie Power's price is on the short side, Douvan represents a bit more value and, for me, he's a very strong candidate.

Looking at the opposition, I don't see much to beat him. He'll go off as market leader which might be a bit of a concern since there have only been two winning favourites of this race since 2004.

However, Willie saddled Vautour to do just that last year and he can't speak highly enough of Douvan and that's enough to convince me that he's going to be good enough.

Un De Sceaux could build on a dream start to the Festival for Mullins with success in the Arkle.

Class

Barring a fall I - as we saw on his chasing debut in Thurles when he was long odds-on favourite - I don't think he'll be beaten.

He showed his class since then and going on the form he showed in Leopardstown back in January, he has enough in the tank.

In the handicap chase ove three miles (2.40), I'm going to row in with Alan King's Ned Stark.

A winner of a Grade Two Novices' Chase at Wetherby last time out, he showed great perseverance to win that day and while he was outclassed by the highly-regarded Ptit Zig at this venue on New Year's Day, this step up in trip should see him figure prominently.

The big race of the day is the Champion Hurdle and I just can't see Faugheen being beaten.

It came as no great surprise that Ruby Walsh went for Faugheen instead of twice winner Hurricane Fly seeing as he is the coming horse in the field.

Looking at his form and his long unbeaten run, I just think Faugheen possesses too much class for this eight-runner field.

Last year's impressive winner of the Neptune Novices' Hurdle will have to see off challenges from the likes of the Jezki and AP McCoy, while The New One also has to be respected.

However, I think Nigel Twiston-Davies' inmate has had a hard year's racing and Faugheen should be that little bit fresher. He won here last year in style when destroying the field and that race has proven to be a good pointer for this contest over the years.

Or course, we won't know exactly how good Faugheen is until tomorrow - an argument that he hasn't beaten anything of substance to date remains.

But I think he'll show the full extent of his talent this afternoon and provide our champion trainer with his third Champion Hurdle success.

In the penultimate race of the day, the Toby Balding National Hutn Chase, I'm going to go for The Job Is Right.

I think he would have nearly won the Thyestes at Gowran if he hadn't parted company with his jockey at the final fence.

He has the experience too and in Derek O'Connor you won't get a better amateur jockey.

Finally, the last race of the day is wide open but keep an eye on Little Jon for some each-way value.

Twiston-Davies identified Little Jon as his best chance of the week after The New One in the Champion Hurdle.

His shrewd handler said that he's a better jumper after falling at Cheltenham earlier in the campaign and that he's happy enough with the weight he carries here. That's the sort of advice that can't be ignored and while the race is wide open, he should be in the shake-up to round off the first day's action.

Condon's call

1.30 Douvan

2.05 Un De Sceaux

2.40 Ned Stark

3.20 Faugheen

4.00 Annie Power (Nap)

4.40 The Job Is Right

5.15 Little Jon (E/W)

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