Douvan 'progressing nicely' but Coneygree out for season
Ruby Walsh was as surprised as anyone to see Douvan's name among 10 entries for a cracking renewal of the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park on Saturday and expects his form on the Closutton gallops over the coming days to decide whether he takes his place.
Willie Mullins' star chaser was reported lame in December with the champion trainer taking the "conservative approach" of ruling him out for the rest of the season, but rapid improvement has subsequently meant a return to home work in recent weeks.
The Rich Ricci-owned eight-year-old could return this weekend over the longer 2m4f trip with Walsh likely to get the plum ride on the six-time Grade One winner should he make it to Cheltenham in one piece.
"Douvan is entered in the Red Mills Chase, but I've no idea whether or not he's going to run. He's progressing nicely, and how he works over the next day or two will determine if Willie runs him or not," Walsh said yesterday.
"If Willie thinks he's up for an entry, it'll be wonderful to have him back. Willie also has Bellshill and Ballycasey in the same race and with Presenting Percy and Our Duke also possible runners, it looks like being a wonderful race."
Walsh is keen to get back aboard the two-time Festival winner which has been beaten just once in 14 starts for Mullins - when he was subsequently found to be lame after year's Cheltenham Champion Chase disappointment, having suffered a pelvic stress fracture.
Another likely mount upon Walsh's return is Vroum Vroum Mag - which hasn't raced since last season's Punchestown Festival where she was reported lame - after the mare was handed a surprise entry at Navan's Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle on Sunday.
"Vroum Vroum Mag is progressing nicely and she too has the option of running this weekend. At the moment, she may be the only one we have on paper in Apple's Jade's class who could go in the Mares Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival," he said.
One horse that won't be returning this year, however, is 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Coneygree, but Sara Bradstock, assistant to her husband Mark, is "not giving up" on the 11-year-old despite ruling him out for the rest of the season with a stress fracture of his tibia.
Coneygree has suffered his fair share of injuries, before and after becoming the first novice winner of the blue riband in 41 years and was pulled up in his two runs this season - the Charlie Hall Chase and the Ladbrokes Trophy.
However after undergoing a wind operation, connections were hopeful he would rediscover his old spark until this latest setback which has seen him scratched from the Gold Cup.
Bradstock said: "Unfortunately we've had another dip on the roller-coaster ride that is Coneygree. He really had responded fantastically well to the wind operation and he has recently done a couple of incredible pieces of work - they really were quite startling.
"Sadly, he came back lame after the last one. It is incredibly disappointing as we really felt that extra spark he showed before he won the Gold Cup was back, but that's Coneygree. Unfortunately, the engine is much stronger than the chassis.
"Hopefully we'll give it one last go next season. He still loves it and still has all that old enthusiasm. I just thank God that we didn't listen to all those wise people a few years ago who said we shouldn't go for the Gold Cup, otherwise we'd be where we are now having only won the RSA Chase."
Meanwhile, The New One and Defi Du Seuil are the big names missing from the Champion Hurdle following yesterday's forfeit stage, with trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies stepping The New One up in trip for the 3m Stayers' Hurdle.
Twenty-one horses remain in the Champion Chase, with Waiting Patiently one of nine removed.
Twenty-eight are still in the Ryanair Chase with Double Shuffle, Road To Respect and Total Recall among the 16 scratched.