Hennessy could be on agenda for classy Vroum Vroum Mag
Willie Mullins has been reluctant to nominate early targets for his elite National Hunt team but his leading owner Rich Ricci and stable jockey Ruby Walsh have indicated that star mare Vroum Vroum Mag could be in line for a Hennessy Gold Cup tilt.
The perennial champion trainer has stressed that the paucity of rainfall has meant that he has been unable to get serious work into his horses.
That in turn renders him unwilling to make definitive statements in relation to plans, a stance that is exacerbated by the wealth of equine ammunition that he invariably strives to keep apart at this time of year.
While the contributions by Ricci and Walsh carry similar caveats, the consensus seems to be that Vroum Vroum Mag could be charged with ending the raiders' dismal record in the prestigious Newbury handicap on November 28. A 33/1 shot for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the six-year-old is unbeaten in five chasing starts.
"We'd like to go for the Hennessy, but after running Djakadam in it first time out last year, the lesson we learned is you need a run," Ricci said of Vroum Vroum Mag on At The Races. "There's a second-season novice chase on November 1 at Naas. If we can get her a run there, that would put her in perfect shape for the Hennessy. The problem is we've had no rain and we need that for her to run.
"If she can't run there (Newbury), we'll probably start her off in a mares' chase. There's one at Carlisle and there's a couple in Ireland. She could be a Gold Cup horse and she could be a Ryanair horse. Maybe she could even run in the Grand National."
Walsh nominated a Clonmel mares' race on November 12 that might suit, but also stressed on his Paddy Power blog: "I just don't know if we'll get her out in time for a pre-Hennessy run."
Mullins' increasing need to source suitable races for his team in the UK has prompted bookies to quote him at odds of around 8/1 for the trainers' title. To that end, his Gold Cup ante-post market leader Vautour could begin its campaign in the Amlin Chase at Ascot on November 21, though the John Durkan Chase is also an option.
"Vautour should start in the Amlin Chase with the King George VI Chase his early-season target," Walsh indicated. "How he gets on there over Christmas should determine whether he's a Cheltenham Gold Cup, Ryanair Chase or Champion Chase contender."
"Djakadam will probably start in the Durkan," Ricci said of this year's Gold Cup runner-up. "Then it could be the Lexus, then maybe what was the Irish Hennessy and then maybe the Gold Cup, who knows?"
Walsh indicated that Mullins' Gigginstown House Stud-owned RSA Chase hero Don Poli could follow a similar path, and he suggested that the Dial-A-Bet Chase would be Un De Sceaux's first major target at Leopardstown over Christmas. He reiterated that Faugheen is being aimed at the Morgiana Hurdle and Annie Power at the Hatton's Grace Hurdle in Fairyhouse
Meanwhile, the gap between all races at Cheltenham in March is to be extended from 35 to 40 minutes, resulting in the last race on each day taking place at 5.30. The Festival's cross-country race is also being switched from a handicap to a straight conditions race.