Sport Horse Racing

Friday 24 January 2020

Douvan can seal festival hat-trick and his perfect 10

Bellhill, with Ruby Walsh up, clears the last on the way to winning the Novice Hurdle Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Bellhill, with Ruby Walsh up, clears the last on the way to winning the Novice Hurdle Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Richard Forristal

We've seen some bubbles burst at Punchestown this week but defeat for Douvan in today's Ryanair Novices' Chase would top the lot.

Contrary to the general consensus, Willie Mullins's equine galacticos are not invincible. They are horses.

Crossing the water twice and then coming here in the space of six weeks isn't easy, and it's not for nothing that Istabraq, Sprinter Sacre and On The Fringe are the only horses in recent times to win at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown in the same year.

After the setbacks for Yorkhill and Vautour, Mullins has opted against running Annie Power tomorrow.

They aren't machines and he doesn't want to push his luck. Competing in such demanding environments at such an exalted level takes a toll. Still, Douvan is different - or at least we like to think he is.

The majestic six-year-old has won six Grade Ones by an average 22 lengths. He swallows his rivals whole.

In nine starts for Mullins, not one horse has been able to take him out of his comfort zone, and Mullins has been moved to describe him as the best that he has trained.

This evening's €115,000 Grade One doesn't offer the prospect of any new substance being lent to that statement, but no one wants to see it contradicted either.

Space is abundant on the pedestal right now, so let's hope that Douvan doesn't vacate it as well.

3.40 JLT Handicap Hurdle 2m

Sir Scorpion ran well at Navan in March and is open to further improvement, as is Tony Martin's Dollar And A Dream. He is consistent and returned from a break to win at Fairyhouse; he is seven pounds higher here. Tetraites is in at the deep end after winning on its hurdle bow at Galway last year. Admiral Brian is also stepping up in class but has been in fine form.

Verdict: Dollar And A Dream has the scope to follow up for Donagh Meyler.

4.15 Handicap Chase 2m

Rock The World is back in more appropriate company after being outclassed at Aintree. He was a good third in the Grand Annual.

Last year's winner Jacksonslady is five pounds higher now and ran well over further last time. Bold Henry, Days Hotel and Sizing Codelco are all capable of running well.

Verdict: Blinkers may aid Jacksonslady's cause under Mark Walsh.

4.50 FBD Cross-country La Touche Cup 4m 1f

Josies Orders is nine pounds worse off with Bless The Wings after just a length separated them at Cheltenham.

However, Bless The Wings has since had a hard race in the Irish Grand National, when he was just denied.

Josies Orders unseated when running well in this last year and is a course winner.

Last year's victor Uncle Junior is getting on in years now, and Ballyboker Bridge is another that loves this particular challenge.

Verdict: Enda Bolger's Nina Carberry-ridden Josies Orders can defy its burden here.

5.30 Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle 3m

Alpha Des Obeaux and Shaneshill finished a similar distance behind Thistlecrack in their respective starts at Cheltenham and Aintree.

Both are well capable of winning this, although each has a tendency to find one too good. In Alpha Des Obeaux's favour is that he skipped Aintree, and he is slightly less exposed.

Diamond King also swerved Liverpool, having been a decent winner of the Coral Cup. While this is a considerable step up, it is not insurmountable, a point illustrated by his now being rated a pound higher than Shaneshill and a pound lower than Alpha Des Obeaux. If he stays, he could be a live contender. Dedigout was a good horse at his peak but would prefer softer ground, while If In Doubt was placed in handicaps over this trip at Cheltenham and Aintree. He should enjoy coming off a strong gallop but needs to find more.

Lieutenant Colonel seems to have lost his spark, whereas the venerable Thousand Stars rarely fails to give his all.

He won a Grade One in France in November, and is capable of defying his years to ruffle a few feathers,

Verdict: Mouse Morris's charge Alpha Des Obeaux is a tentative nap in a tricky heat.

6.05 Murray Spelman Handicap Hurdle 3m

Barry Geraghty has gone with Rathpatrick of JP McManus's four. He was only beaten a few lengths in the Pertemps and was a winner here in January.

Robert Tyner's Fairly Legal steps up in trip after finishing fourth on his handicap bow. He is unexposed, while the taking Gowran Park winner O Ceallaigh can improve beyond its eight-pound penalty.

Verdict: Mark Walsh has a decent chance aboard Fairly Legal.

6.40 Ryanair Chase 2m

Douvan carries the same caveat as all the others that have been running at a third spring festival this week. Clearly, he is an exceptional animal that hasn't had a hard race in his life, but they still have to go and do it. He is unequivocally the best horse in the race.

Sizing John and The Game Changer are well capable but not in his league, likewise Baltimore Rock, which was running a nice race in the Arkle before crashing two-out. Ttebbob is interesting. He failed to progress after his first two devastating chasing starts, but he has been freshened up for this.

Verdict: Douvan should only need to carry Ruby Walsh around for a perfect 10.

7.15 Setanta Sports Mares' Novice Hurdle 2m

Myska has gone backwards of late but she might appreciate this better ground. She has a bit of class.

Mullins also introduces the winning French four-year-old Ria D'etel, while Missy Tata enhanced her reputation when fourth in the Fred Winter. Miss Estela, Msmilan, Flaviana and Head Turner all come here in form.

Verdict: Take a chance on Myska bouncing back to her best.

7.45 Kildare Post INH Flat Race 2m

First Figaro represents the Champion Bumper form, having run well there to be ninth. It is a tight contest all told, with Invitation Only a galloping type that was impressive at Navan.

Verdict: Invitation Only looks the part.

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