Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 19 November 2017

Ruby gets it right on Djakadam in Durkan

Eventual winner Djakadam, with Ruby Walsh up, lands over the final fence just ahead of runner-up Outlander (Davy Russell) and Sub Lieutenant (Bryan Cooper) on the way to capturing the John Durkan Memorial Steeplechase at Punchestown yesterday. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Eventual winner Djakadam, with Ruby Walsh up, lands over the final fence just ahead of runner-up Outlander (Davy Russell) and Sub Lieutenant (Bryan Cooper) on the way to capturing the John Durkan Memorial Steeplechase at Punchestown yesterday. Photo by Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

Given that Ruby Walsh would not commit to Faugheen over Hurricane Fly until they were nearly at the tape in last year's Champion Hurdle, there was little hope of him giving yesterday's plans away when queried on Monday - even if he knew them.

Going to Cork would have meant whatever thrill riding Douvan must amount to, and we non-jockeys can only wonder; however, the big action was at Punchestown. He was never likely to give up a John Durkan readily.

Moreover, anyone with a license could win on Douvan. Not everyone could have steered Djakadam (4/5) to this gritty win in the feature on a gorgeous winter's afternoon near Naas.

It lived up to what hype Douvan didn't thieve from the old venue, the flop of Black Hercules the notable let-down. Djakadam and the bold-leaping Sub Lieutenant put pressure on the others to be swift and nimble, for all that the favourite got it wrong at the seventh.

"He survived that, something he has not done before, so it shows he is maturing," Willie Mullins reflected, referencing the tumble in his Gold Cup prep at Cheltenham last year that left the rest of the season up in the air.

"Last year he was held up after getting cut at Cheltenham. It was right between his front legs and was stapled. It came right but hardly ideal ahead of a Gold Cup."

Expertly

Djakadam, second in the big one in March, was not to be denied here, expertly gathered together by Walsh after the last to finish gamely and hold off former stablemate Outlander. Generally, he was brilliant at his fences.

"Of course the Gold Cup is the seasonal focus but I knew John Durkan and his family," Mullins added. "This is a tremendous honour. We'll probably try to do what we did last year. I'm delighted that he could win that first time out, he's making progress. "

Mullins, who also had two winners at Cork, enjoyed a four-timer here, Turcagua and American Tom (both evens favourite) doing the job in a maiden hurdle and beginners' chase respectively.

You would struggle to locate two better-looking jumpers anywhere and both have engines to match.

"I'm not sure what happened here in the fog the last time with Turcagua, who is a chaser in time. American Tom jumped quite a bit left, and I am not able to explain why, but we'll look at a nice novice race," said Mullins, whose newcomer Come To Me (7/2) showed speed aplenty in the bumper.

If American Tom edged left, so did Sunni May (2/1 favourite), but the Jessica Harrington-trained steed was still much too strong in what looked a pretty classy novice hurdle.

"Two miles will be his trip and he'll probably go to Leopardstown, though bottomless winter ground will probably not be ideal," Harrington said.

Dawerann proved that he wanted a step up in trip all along, coming good at a generous 11/2 in the handicap hurdle under promising Cian Collins, keeping Gordon Elliott among the winners on a day when his lead at the top of the trainers' table was subject to erosion.

There was still room for the smaller trainer, Mary Hallahan taking the handicap chase with 14/1 Kansas City Chief.

However, this felt more like the narrative of Mullins domination to which we have become accustomed.

He seemed at ease yesterday, having had setbacks so far this term, especially the death of Vautour and losing 60 Gigginstown horses.

The champion trainer will not be giving up his crown, especially with Walsh riding like this, too easily.

He will have slept easily last night, the show firmly back on the road.

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