Mullins' exciting trio ready to underline vast potential
As if it didn't seem as though he were already enjoying complete domination, Willie Mullins will this weekend unleash three of his brightest young chasers on either side of the Irish Sea.
At Sandown on Saturday, the spectacular front-running two-miler Un De Sceaux will make its seasonal bow in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.
By then, Un De Sceaux's fellow impressive Cheltenham Festival novices' chase victor Don Poli will have made its return at Aintree, and the following day the Gold Cup runner-up Djakadam will join Valseur Lido in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown.
Ominously for Mullins' rivals, Un De Sceaux, Don Poli and Djakadam are strong market leaders for their respective events, and Valseur Lido is second-favourite for the Durkan.
The all-conquering handler also has Sir Des Champs and Don Poli in the two-and-a-half-mile Punchestown Grade One, but Sir Des Champs will wait for the Lexus Chase at Christmas.
Noel Meade ruled out Road To Riches in favour of a similar policy, which may suggest that Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown Stud firm have prioritised the Durkan for Valseur Lido, though they also have Gordon Elliott's Clarcam among the 10 contenders.
Foxrock, the third highest rated entry after Djakadam and Don Poli, has been supplemented by Ted Walsh on behalf of Barry Connell at a cost of 10pc of the €85,000 purse.
"Djakadam and Valseur Lido are both definites for the John Durkan Chase," Mullins confirmed, adding the caveat. "However, it's probably a little short for both of them."
A decisive winner of the Thyestes Chase in January, Djakadam was a gallant second to Coneygree at Cheltenham, before filling the same spot at Punchestown behind Don Cossack, the highest rated chaser in training.
"Djakadam ran a cracker at Punchestown last April. The sort of form he is in, and perhaps one or two of them may be a little ring rusty, plus he always runs a good race at Punchestown, means I hope he will put up a show."
Valseur Lido won the Drinmore Novices' Chase a year ago. Third to the mighty Vautour at Prestbury Park in March, he is a versatile sort that plundered a second Grade One over three miles at Punchestown in the spring.
Like Djakadam and Don Poli, Valseur Lido is a six-year-old with scope to develop into a high-class performer, while a similar comment applies to Enda Bolger's Gilgamboa, which will also return in the Durkan.
Intriguingly, such is the strength in depth among the intermediate and staying chasing ranks that Paul Nicholls yesterday revealed that Saturday's Hennessy Gold Cup fifth Saphir Du Rheu would revert to hurdles, with a tilt at bettering last season's World Hurdle second top of the agenda.
"Saphir Du Rheu is only a six-year-old, so I've always been concerned that the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup would come a year too soon for him," Nicholls said in his Betfair blog.
"I still think he will be a serious chaser and I am not ruling out a return to fences for him at Aintree in April. And when he comes back into training next autumn, he will be aimed at the Hennessy Gold Cup before heading for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2017."
Nicky Henderson's 2013 Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth will follow a similar path this term after finishing a place behind Saphir Du Rheu at Newbury, having previously maintained its unbeaten record over flights by denying Simonsig at Aintree.
On Saturday's Becher Chase card at the Liverpool venue, Gigginstown's Don Poli will face the Grand National winner Many Clouds in a Listed chase, with Dynaste, Southfield Theatre and Elliott's Mala Beach also engaged.
Un De Sceaux, meanwhile, is long odds-on for Sandown's Tingle Creek Chase, after Henderson opted to hold Sprinter Sacre in reserve until Christmas. Henry De Bromhead has Sizing Tiara, which slammed Sprinter Sacre over course and distance in April, in the Tingle Creek, and he has also put the Listowel winner Sizing Codelco in the Henry VIII Novices' Chase.
Mullins's Vroum Vroum Mag could run in Sunday's Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon, though she is engaged over hurdles at Clonmel tomorrow.