Douvan dazzles in Mullins bonanza
Formality can dull the collective soul - like Barcelona and Real Madrid playing in front of seemingly indifferent masses, as they often do nowadays.
Douvan probably knows it too. They say that when he cornered the perimeter of the Mallow parade ring on his reappearance, Douvan stopped twice to peer around, apparently concerned that the crowd had lost sight of his being there.
They hadn't. Nor had those among the 17,783 who barged for favourable vantage at a heaving Leopardstown, basking in such winter sun as to befit a day when we get to see Douvan.
They thronged the ring, smartphones ready, but now the subject of the accolades was back to being the chilled-out Douvan those in Closutton know him to be. At home, he's John Coffey in 'The Green Mile', only with greater magic powers: a giant, a lamb. This, Willie Mullins said amid a Leopardstown five-timer, had not changed since his return to work this autumn - but there was a little concern.
"His work rider was new and he didn't seem to be quite the same Douvan," Mullins conceded. "So I asked Holly Conte, his new work rider, to have a chat with Gayle Carlisle, who was there before her."
It was all much ado about nothing. Perhaps the best jumper of my generation produced another flawless performance in the Grade One Chase. Soon he will feel like Celtic when Rangers were out of the top flight.
Asked would he like a Thistlecrack clash one day, Rich Ricci said: "Sure."
A step up in trip next season - rather than this one - rates as a live possibility. His success at odds of 1/8 was to be expected, yet one is still left in awe.
The sorrow was that Sizing John, runner-up and having only his first start out of novice company, was suffering defeat to Douvan for the seventh time.
"Every time a horse like that runs I've my heart in my mouth," said the winning trainer. "He did what we hoped and we didn't learn anything new. He has spectacular scope; anyone that rides him just says he has a different gear. All the others around you are paddling looking to go faster while you are sitting on him. He just has a huge stride and does it effortlessly. He's a lovely horse in the stable and a kid could lead him up in the yard. He has a beautiful temperament and he has such size too."
When Douvan returned to the parade ring, the welcome was more polite than raucous: this is what is now expected. So is a Mullins five-timer but, in snaring the €190,000 Paddy Power, Gordon Elliott reasserted some control at the top of the trainers' table.
Chris Jones' Noble Endeavor got a patient steer from Davy Russell (6/1) to deny a colossal gamble on The Crafty Butcher, part-owned by rugby stars Ian Madigan and Dominic Ryan.
"It's been frustrating but at least they are finishing second rather than second-last," said Elliott. "I'm thrilled for Chris, who invests so much."
For Madigan, it was almost a dream realised, but he was still positive. "I'm already looking forward to the next day," said the Bordeaux out-half.
As well as Douvan, Ruby Walsh saw success on Merie Devie (11/8), Bacardys (4/6) and That's A Wrap (3/1). Merie Devie proved extremely impressive in the juveniles' maiden. Mullins also took the bumper with imposing 9/10 favourite Ballyward, while the Grade One novice hurdle went to stablemate Saturnas at 9/2.
So smooth was her victory, it was surprising that Ladbrokes dangled 16s about Merie Devie for the JCB Triumph Hurdle, though they later took evasive action. Mullins' words were telling, too.
"She was really novicey jumping at home and she should improve loads from that," he said, with Ruby Walsh compelled to say: "Don't forget she was a ten-furlong horse on the Flat."
Saturnas' win was achieved in an underwhelming edition of the novices' race but the significance of Paul Townend achieving a Grade One success was not lost on Mullins. "It's fantastic for Paul to get that," said the Closutton supremo.
After his five winners at Foxrock and his one at Limerick (Some Neck, which was partnered to victory by son Patrick who then headed to Leopardstown to steer Ballyward home in the last), Mullins had everyone talking about his chances of fending off Elliott's challenge to the champion trainer's title.
Asked by the Irish Independent if retaining his crown mattered, Mullins said: "Of course; you wouldn't be competitive if it didn't." Ruby, meanwhile, reminded us of something others may forget. "Douvan is still a very young horse: he has a lot of racing in front of him." We can only pray it is so.