Mullins opts to leave Vautour in Champion Chase
Willie Mullins has thrown a potential curveball by leaving Vautour in Wednesday's Betway Champion Chase, as the latest entry stage for Cheltenham served mainly to add a little clarity to the likely Coral Cup field.
The champion trainer's JP McManus-owned Great Field, a market leader with some firms for the Coral Cup, was the most notably absentee.
If he is to run at the four-day Festival, it will be in Friday's County Hurdle, for which he is now as low as 8/1 second favourite behind Gordon Elliott's Desoto County. The same two handlers are responsible for the market leaders in the Coral Cup, with Mullins' Arbre De Vie now due to carry 11st 4lb and Elliott's Diamond King on 11st 3lb after the weights went up 2lb. Both can be backed at odds of up to 10/1.
Vautour's presence among the 12 remaining entries for the Queen Mother Champion Chase was surprising.
Mullins and owner Rich Ricci have stressed that the stunning dual Festival victor is an intended Gold Cup starter.
If the King George VI Chase runner-up were to run in anything else, the consensus has been that the Ryanair Chase would be the natural alternative.
However, after yesterday's scratchings, Vautour still has three options. Maybe the prospect of soft ground is prompting connections to keep all options open, or the fear of a misfortune befalling the stable's odds-on Champion Chase favourite, Un De Sceaux.
Also expected to tackle the definitive two-mile Grade One for Mullins is the 10-year-old Felix Yonger, which has belatedly blossomed over the past year.
With previous winners Sprinter Sacre, Sire De Grugy and Dodging Bullets also set to take part, as well as the likes of Henry De Bromhead's Special Tiara, Colm Murphy's Sizing Granite and Mick Channon's old stalwart Somersby, the Champion Chase is shaping up to be a mouth-watering a prospect as the Gold Cup. In all probability, Vautour won't run, but leaving the door open to do so was unexpected.
In Wednesday's RSA Novices' Chase, Elliott's market leading No More Heroes has stood its ground, as has McManus' Jonjo O'Neill-trained More Of That, touted as a possible JLT runner.
Mullins has left in all his main contenders, as he has done for the Neptune Novices' Hurdle and the Champion Bumper. Eddie O'Leary, racing manager to his brother Michael's Gigginstown House Stud, has indicated that Roi Des Francs, as low as 4/1 second favourite for Tuesday's four-miler, is an intended RSA starter.
Intriguingly, O'Leary has suggested that the firm's Avenir D'Une Vie could tackle Wednesday's Champion Bumper, a race in which they generally don't have runners. He is reported as having said that Patrick Mullins, who would be unlikely to partner Augusta Kate due to her light weight, will ride on the six-year-old if he chooses to do so.
A two-time winner from four starts, Avenir D'Une Vie dotted up when last seen at Naas in February.
Meanwhile, Elliott's Our Father, a leading fancy for Thursday's Kim Muir, has been ruled out for the season.