Friday 22 November 2019

Video: Our expert panel discuss the Supreme Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham

Ashley Iveson

Willie Mullins is in bullish mood as Douvan bids to get the Cheltenham Festival off to a perfect start for the Irish in Tuesday's Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

The normally cautious Mullins has been unable to hide his excitement about a performer he hails "as nice a horse as we've had ever going to Cheltenham", some praise from a man who is the Festival's winning-most Irish trainer of all time with 33 victories ahead of the latest instalment.

The five-year-old has been mightily impressive since being snapped up from France, slamming subsequent Grade One winner Sizing John on his Irish bow at Gowran Park before treating his rivals with contempt in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown, a race landed last year by Supreme-winning stablemate Vautour.

Mullins said: "Douvan looks the part. He does everything so naturally at home and on the racecourse when we have run him, so fingers crossed he can do it in Cheltenham as well.

"I think the track will suit and coming up that hill is what he wants. His jumping is good enough and Ruby (Walsh) is very happy with him.

"He's surprised me as he's a big angular horse and looks immature and you'd think he'd want another season under his belt, but he does everything so easily.

"We were happy with what he did in Punchestown and it is just a matter of keeping him there.

"I think he jumps well enough, he has enough stamina and I think he's got everything we need.

"Everything we ask him to do he does. There's no half measures. He just comes up the gallop every time we ask him to do a bit of work.

"The race in Gowran was a real good novice hurdle. If you went before and offered a lot of money for any of the runners the owners wouldn't have taken it and he just demolished them.

"We took on a nice field of horses in Punchestown and he did easily again, much easier than Vautour did it last year.

"Vautour looked the finished article last year. He was big and strong with muscles coming out everywhere.

"This fellow is more like a long-distance runner than a sprinter. That's why I think there's huge potential in him.

"He's got the physique and stature of a chaser."

Douvan is the first of many bullets fired by Mullins' powerhouse owner Rich Ricci, who is bidding for a third successive victory in the Festival curtain-raiser following the triumphs of Champagne Fever and Vautour.

"We've been very fortunate to win the Supreme the last two years, which is extraordinary. It's a huge relief when you win that first race of the meeting," said Ricci.

"He's in very good form and I can't remember the last time Willie was this positive. It was probably when Pont Alexandre got stuffed by The New One!

"I think we'll keep our feet on the ground. He's a silly price. That being said, I can't believe how positive the reports are from home, he did a piece of work that was very good and it's all systems go.

"He'll go on any ground and we go there with confidence, but also recognising it's a very tough race."

Walsh is in similarly confident mood.

He said in his Paddy Power blog: "Willie says he's as nice a horse as he's sent to Cheltenham and I hope he's right. He's definitely a faster horse than last year's winner Vautour, but you also have to stay to win this race.

"Douvan certainly has the speed to win a Supreme, but there may be stronger stayers in the field - but I wouldn't swap him for any of them.

"L'Ami Serge is a danger and going left-handed will suit him, while Jollyallan could do without any hurdles as jumping seems to be his problem."

Douvan heads a four-pronged Mullins assault in a field of 12 runners.

Paul Townend rides last year's Champion Bumper runner-up Shaneshill, David Casey is aboard Alvisio Ville and Tell Us More is the mount of Bryan Cooper.

Widely regarded as the biggest threat to the Irish challenge is the Nicky Henderson-trained L'Ami Serge.

The five-year-old made a mockery of his opening handicap mark when strolling clear in the Gerry Feilden Hurdle at Newbury in November and subsequent strikes in a Supreme trial at Ascot and the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown have cemented his status as Britain's top two-mile novice hurdler.

"I think he's done everything right all year, to be honest," said the Seven Barrows handler.

"I was nervous even going into the Gerry Feilden, and that was a handicap. I didn't think he was that well treated but it turned out he was thrown in.

"We think the better ground will help him. He's by King's Theatre and most of them want better ground."

Harry Fry's Jollyallan will be Tony McCoy's first mount for what will be his final Festival.

The JP McManus-owned six-year-old racked up a hat-trick of victories before finding the vastly experienced Garde La Victoire just too strong at Sandown last month.

Fry said: "He's been progressing throughout the season and the ground should be ideal for him.

"He has to improve again to win, but I think he goes there with as good a chance as any of ours during the week.

"I think the experience of coming up against a horse like him (Garde La Victoire) and getting into a battle will be invaluable.

"I've grown up with Tony McCoy being champion jockey since the age of eight, I think, so to have him ride one of our horses at the Festival is fantastic.

"If we could get his final Festival off to a flyer it would be brilliant."

John Ferguson goes in search of his first Festival success with impressive Newbury winner Qewy.

"He beat Cardinal Walter easily enough who has been out and won since, though I'm not sure what he beat," said the trainer.

"The important thing was how much improvement he showed from Haydock to Newbury.

"He's straightforward at home and I wouldn't be worried about him hanging.

"From my point of view, the impression he gives me is that he couldn't be in better shape."

Seedling is three from three this season for Warren Greatrex and showed his worth on the track when last seen in December.

Greatrex told Racing UK: "He'll love the better ground and he's in terrific order.

"Touch-wood, the horses seem to be peaking at the right time."

Bentelimar is on a steep upward curve for trainer Shay Barry, looking the part when winning a Punchestown Listed prize in early February.

"I think he has come on from winning at Punchestown and I'll be disappointed if he is not in the shake-up," said Barry.

Henry de Bromhead's Sizing John, not seen since winning the Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas, Some Plan from Tom George's yard and the Tony Martin-trained outsider Velvet Maker complete the line-up.

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