Tuesday 12 December 2017

Dynamic Douvan can scale greater heights

Ruby Walsh celebrates as he and Douvan pass the winning post in yesterday's Racing Post Arkle (Reuters)
Ruby Walsh celebrates as he and Douvan pass the winning post in yesterday's Racing Post Arkle (Reuters)
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

If Min's early defeat prompted reservations about the extent to which Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh might dominate day one of the Cheltenham Festival, Douvan's devastating Arkle Trophy rout soon banished those fears.

On another magical afternoon in the Cotswolds that saw Annie Power trigger an early examination of the architectural soundness of the wonderful new gallery overlooking the winner's enclosure, Douvan's staggering exhibition of superiority spurred thoughts of what the future might hold.

Of course, his devastating destruction of inferior opposition in the Racing Post-sponsored Grade One should itself be embraced, no less than Annie Power's Stan James Champion Hurdle coronation. Both dominated their respective fields at will.

Still, it is the mind-boggling potential that the six-year-old Douvan possesses that really whets the appetite. By becoming the shortest-priced winner in the history of the £150,000 two-miler at odds of 1/4, the angular son of Walk In the Park had to do little more than live up to its sire's name.

Afterwards, though, you were left to ponder how high this stunning specimen of athleticism might yet soar.

Equivocal

Mullins, who combined with Walsh to bag a 6/1 treble when Vroum Vroum Mag secured his eighth successive OLBG Mares' Hurdle, was asked which path Douvan might follow.

The Champion Chase or the Gold Cup? On a day that began with that bombshell Vautour about-turn, Mullins was characteristically equivocal.

"I don't know, he could do either," he responded without a hint of irony. "I think he is certainly a Gold Cup horse, but we might go the Champion Chase route with him. He has that pace.

"I wouldn't have had any problem supplementing him for the Champion Hurdle this year, but he stays as well - and he settles. Hopefully he will just keep winning."

Douvan, now unbeaten in eight for the Closutton genius, was just as dismissive of the runner-up Sizing John as he had been in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle 12 months earlier. Henry de Bromhead's charge again finished seven lengths behind, and deserves to contest a Grade One without having to chase his nemesis's shadow.

"We're sick of the sight of Douvan but there you go," admitted De Bromhead. "The winner is obviously a very good horse so there's no shame in finishing second."

That much is certainly true. Douvan stepped at the last but that was his only error. He can be backed at up to 14/1 for next year's Gold Cup, but vies for Champion Chase favouritism with stablemate Un De Sceaux, which is charged with plundering today's feature, having won the 2015 Arkle. Both are as low as 6/4 for the 2017 edition.

"He did that little thing at the last but it didn't seem to bother him and he just sprinted up the hill," Mullins reflected. "We think he could be anything and he hasn't disproved that there." Walsh, winning his third Arkle in all, echoed those sentiments.

"Willie's not one to jump up and down about a horse," he stressed, "but this fellow does everything so easily at home. He's a brilliant work horse and has always shown a great mentality.

"He wastes no time in the air and has a huge amount of natural ability. I'd imagine there is more to come, because he has only run four times over fences. He could be anything."

Owner Rich Ricci was no less bold: "Willie has said that he is the best he has ever had and he is certainly the best that we have had." Annie Power might have tested the veracity of that opinion when she bossed the Champion Hurdle field in record time.

Her presence in the absence of the team's injured Faugheen was a saving grace for the championship event, though it is lamentable that she only got the chance to fulfil her true destiny by a twist of fate. The mares' race would have been her target otherwise, and it now looks as though she has, for one reason or another, been campaigned over the wrong trip.

Under an inspired and triumphant Walsh, Annie Power's redemption was achieved in glorious style. The 5/2 favourite consigned her galling Festival record to the history books and banished all doubts to become the fourth mare to win the Champion Hurdle.

Given that Paddy Mullins trained Dawn Run to prevail in 1984, the family are responsible for 50pc of that total. "We have no regrets about the last two years," Mullins said in defence of the scenic route Annie Power took to get here. It could have been fantastic last year, and the year before Ruby wanted to ride Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle and, since I wanted him to ride Annie Power, she went for the World Hurdle. She was beaten by a very good horse on the day."

This time, it was left to Vroum Vroum Mag to dispense with the vastly inferior competition at odds of 4/6 in the mares' race. She is a hugely versatile animal that has the capacity to mix it with the best of her male colleagues, should the opportunity arise.

"Her work during last week was awesome," Mullins revealed. "It was so good that we wondered whether we'd supplemented the right mare into the Champion Hurdle. Ruby thought at one point last year that she could be a Grand National horse as she's that laid-back. We thought she'd be a big chasing type but she keeps surprising us."

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