Devastating Douvan strolls to festival treble
Douvan did what Douvan does yesterday to join an elite group of equine giants that have won at the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown festivals in the same year.
Sent off at odds of 2/9 to stretch his unbeaten record for Willie Mullins to 10, the imperious six-year-old cruised around under Ruby Walsh to dispose of his four Ryanair Novices' Chase rivals in effortless fashion.
He had been uncharacteristically wound up in the parade ring beforehand. However, once Walsh threw his leg over Douvan, a sense of serenity descended once more. Thereafter, it was routine stuff, in as much as such majesty can ever be considered routine.
Walsh allowed his nimble mount stride on from the off. Douvan barely broke stride at each fence, conspiring to leave the others flailing hopelessly.
Rarely will you see such breathtaking alacrity. When Walsh gave Douvan a squeeze, the response was emphatic.
They skipped through the final fence and danced home 11 lengths clear of The Game Changer, with the same back to Sizing John. This is how Douvan rolls.
He chews up other thoroughbreds and spits them out. Rich Ricci's star's seventh bloodless Grade One success took the champion trainer's top-level tally to a record 31 for the season.
In modern times, only Istabraq (1999), Sprinter Sacre (2013) and On The Fringe (2015) had completed the big festival treble. To that esteemed list we can now add Douvan, an extraordinarily athletic specimen that Mullins has never shied away from talking up.
"We've seen a few of mine this week not being able to handle that sort of pressure, but he just did it so easily," eulogised Mullins, who moved onto six wins for the week when his son Patrick drove the odds-on Invitation Only to victory in the bumper.
The question now, of course, is what path Douvan will take next term.
"The Champion Chase would look the obvious route at this minute - unless Rich wants him to go for the Gold Cup!" Mullins mused. "I think he would stay. He pops away and he is not keen, so he would have every chance of staying."
Such dilemmas are a recurring theme for Mullins and Ricci, and the trilby-sporting American duly went on to suggest that Douvan might be aimed at the King George. Walsh was similarly non-committal. "He is some jet, isn't he!" the rider beamed. "He only sauntered around. You have no problem with stamina, but we haven't got a faster horse, so he is going to win a sprint as well.
"He is so accurate. He never bends his back, he does it all with his front end and then his back end just follows through. It's class.
"We've never set him alight to see what's there; you're only ever doing enough to win, because you want them to last longer and keep winning.
"We'll look at every horse we have and weigh up the options as a team. You try to win as many races as you can so you try and plot for them to maximise their potential."
Asked if he might be the best he has ridden, Walsh sounded a note of caution. "He could be," he responded, "but you ride lots of top novices - it's the next step. Look at Un De Sceaux. You want them to do what Faugheen has done - step out of novice company to be a champion."
In the Ladbrokes Stayers Hurdle, Gavin Sheehan and Warren Greatrex mastermind an upset with 10/1 shot One Track Mind. The duo executed a similar feat last year when Cole Harden triumphed in the Cheltenham equivalent of the €200,000 three-mile Grade One.
A native of Dunmanway in west Cork, Sheehan was champion conditional in Britain in 2014. When the pace-setting Lieutenant Colonel wilted three-out, the 23-year-old seized the initiative aboard One Track Mind. He and Jennies Jewel were battling away when the chasing Shaneshill crashed under Walsh at the last. Chances are that made no difference to the outcome.
"That was brilliant," Sheehan said afterwards in another unseasonal shower of sleet. "It's nice to come home and ride a good winner. Fair play to Warren and the team for bringing him over. We always knew he was nice horse, but I wasn't expecting that today."
The Flemensfirth six-year-old's triumph maintained the winner-a-day record for the raiders, and Nicky Henderson's Cup Final added to it in the following handicap hurdle, chinning the wayward Jury Duty by a short-head.
JP McManus's 14/1 shot found plenty to double Robbie Power's tally for the week in dramatic style.
Elusive Ivy (16/1) secured Gavin Cromwell his 14th win of the season when scoring for Brien Kane in the JLT Handicap Hurdle. Cromwell doubles up as a farrier and his chief employer in that capacity, Gordon Elliott, left with a 31/1 double courtesy of Bright New Dawn and Missy Tata (6/4 favourite).
Bright New Dawn went some way to shedding his unreliable tag with a game effort under Bryan Cooper in the handicap chase. "He's either very good or very bad and unfortunately it's more bad than good, but I thought Bryan gave him a great ride there," Elliott said of Gigginstown's 12/1 shot.
Enda Bolger and McManus lost the La Touche Cup favourite Josies Orders to a cough in the morning but they still departed with the first two. Last year's runner-up Quantitativeeasing (9/4 jt-fav) excelled under an enterprising ride from Mark Walsh (left) en route to a decisive victory over Cantlow.
On another bitter evening, attendance fell narrowly to 16,978, while the bookmakers' take dropped from €1.4m to €1.1m.