Punchestown cruise as Ruby hails 'deadly' Douvan class
In the end it was just a matter of how far, as Douvan cruised home for his 14th victory on the bounce in yesterday's Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown.
Willie Mullins felt we learnt nothing new as the seven-year-old barely came out of second gear to lift the BoyleSports-sponsored Grade Two prize at the prohibitive odds of 1/14 in the hands of Ruby Walsh.
Douvan made virtually all in the four-runner affair and his task was made even easier when his nearest market rival, Smashing, was pulled up, leaving Realt Mor to finish a six-and-a-half-length second with Draycott Place beaten a further 31 lengths in third.
Walsh said: "He's deadly. I thought Smashing would go a bit quicker but obviously he wasn't up for it today and he never really took me on. I jumped by him at the first and he just sauntered around at his own speed and done his own thing.
"I gave him a squeeze at the back of the second last and he jumped out through the bridle. He won as he liked - probably as you'd expect him to win.
"I'd suppose it's the old adage - the better horse you ride, the faster they go and the easier it is to ride them. He just has a huge amount of natural ability, he's a pleasure to ride."
As ever, the Mullins-trained gelding jumped and travelled superbly and his handler was just glad to get his prep-run out of the way ahead of next month's Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
"I'm relieved that's over," said Mullins. "He's probably not showed anything that he hasn't showed us before."
There was a setback for Mullins in the opening EBF Novice Hurdle over two miles as his highly-touted Cilaos Emery had his colours lowered by the Gordon Elliott-trained Mick Jazz.
Sent off the 4/9 favourite, the Closutton inmate was expected to enhance his Supreme Novices' claims but raced a bit too keenly and was run down close home by Gordon Elliott's charge.
Formerly with Harry Fry, Mick Jazz (7/1) was last seen finishing third in a Fairyhouse handicap and his extra experience came to the fore under Jack Kennedy as he edged out the market leader by a neck in the final 100 yards.
"It was a good performance," said Elliot. "We were toying with going to the Betfair Hurdle next week but we felt a winner in Ireland is more important. He won't run next week now and we could look at something like the County Hurdle in Cheltenham."
Elliott may have gained the day in the first, but it was the Mullins team who was on the mark in the three-mile handicap hurdle.
With Walsh aboard stablemate The Crafty Butcher, Danny Mullins stepped in to ride Isleofhopendreams at the bottom of the handicap for his uncle and he delivered his mount with a perfectly-timed challenge. Sent off an 11/2 chance, Isleofhopendreams was buried in the pack as Val De Ferbet cut out the early pace, but it appeared to be Sutton Manor who had stolen the advantage when hitting the front on the turn for home.
However, Mullins got a good run through on the rail to cut down Sutton Manor on the run to the line, eventually coming home two-and-a-quarter lengths clear.
Oscar Sam claimed third with The Crafty Butcher crashing out with four hurdles left to jump.
Mullins is now looking to the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival with his charge. He said: "(It was a) very good performance and (he) is improving all the time. I'd imagine that he will go for the Final and should get in now.
"An extra few furlongs would not do him any harm, and I'd like soft ground for him."
Elliott also enjoyed a brace on the day, with Oakley Hall (9/4) capturing the closing bumper for Jamie Codd, after the Mullins-trained favourite Clitandre finishing last of six.
While Ruby Walsh was on the mark with Douvan, he had to settle for second as sister Katie teamed up with her husband, Ross O'Sullivan, to claim the racinguk.com/freetrial Grand National Trial Handicap Chase with Baie Des Iles (8/1).
Last seen when finishing fifth in the Welsh National at Christmas, Baie Des Iles made every yard in the three-and-a-half-mile heat to see off Ruby on the Mullins-trained Sambremont by four-and-three-quarter lengths.
O'Sullivan said: "That's her, three-and-a-half miles and soft ground. We were delighted with her run in the Welsh National but Katie said the ground wasn't soft enough. The rain came here on Thursday and she just loves it.
"The Eider Chase at Newcastle could be her next race. She was second in this race last year, and the owners Charles and Zorka (Wentworth) were over and keen to go for it.
"Katie gave her a brilliant ride, and she was keen enough to ride her that way. She was ridden in behind horses in Wales and Katie felt she didn't like it. If something wanted to go on today she would let them but if nothing wanted to lead she would let her bowl along. She seemed to love it in front.
"She ran in the Irish National last year and ran a good race to be sixth. It's April 17 this year and we are probably going to run out of ground for us at that stage. If there was plenty of rain she could run and she will get an entry.
"She is not eligible to run in Aintree as she is only a six-year-old. The dream ticket would be Aintree and hopefully, if she is in one piece, then we will be there next year."
Enda Bolger's Colour Squadron was sent off 7/4 favourite for the PP Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase but it was stablemate Auvergnat (9/2) which landed the spoils after he held off Usuel Smurfer in a thrilling finish to give 22-year-old Donal McInerney a memorable first winner since deciding to turn professional.
The winning trainer explained: "Donal has been with me a few years. He was finding it hard to get rides in point-to-points so has decided to go down this route (turning professional).
"This horse is only a seven-year-old and should have a nice future at this game. He will have to go for the cross-country now at Cheltenham next month. He had a look there last week, and it was just unfortunate what happened last week (when unseating rider)."
Willie Murphy could look at the Irish Grand National for Velocity Boy (9/4) after he struck gold under Barry Cash in the Michael Fitzpatrick Memorial Beginners Chase - making all the running to beat favourite Robin Thyme by 11 lengths.