Wednesday 21 February 2018

'Tip-top' Douvan ready for return to the fray - Mullins

Trainer Willie Mullins. Photo: Sportsfile
Trainer Willie Mullins. Photo: Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

Willie Mullins is excited about the season ahead for brilliant chaser Douvan, which he reports to be in great shape as he continues his preparation for a return to the track.

The French-bred was unbeaten for the champion trainer until labouring when clearly not right in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March. A stress fracture was subsequently detected.

"Douvan is in tip-top shape, I am delighted to say," the champion trainer said. "The Hilly Way at Cork is a race we've had plenty of runners in but with it being in December we'd be inclined to look at an earlier race for his comeback run, potentially."

The Cheltenham Chase, known as the Shloer Chase, which takes place in November on the Sunday of the Open meeting, may be a possibility.

Mullins is planning to run as many as he can in the Guinness Kerry National on Wednesday, about which most hype has revolved around the returning Coneygree. "The exchange rate is making these Irish races all the more of an incentive for the English runners," said Mullins. "It will be an interesting race. I'd give Shaneshill and Arbre De Vie realistic chances on what they have done, Haymount would need to step up and hopefully The Crafty Butcher might get in."

Gigginstown's rough plan at the moment is three or four runners. "Hopefully Road To Riches, Lord Scoundrel. A Toi Phil and Potters Point will take their chance," said racing manager Eddie O'Leary.

Listowel's Harvest Festival commences on Sunday, the second day of the Longines Irish Champions Weekend. Aidan O'Brien last evening clarified his plans ahead of a two-day extravaganza that he is likely to dominate. O'Brien has decided plans for his main runners on Saturday at Leopardstown, with Winter avoiding a clash with Churchill in the feature Qipco Irish Champion Stakes.

"The plan is that Winter, Hydrangea, Roly Poly and Rhododendron will run in the Matron, while our two Champion Stakes runners are likely to be Churchill and Cliffs Of Moher," the champion trainer told the Irish Independent.

This will be Rhododendron's first run since struggling in France, before which she was second to Enable in the Irish Oaks.

Leopardstown expects the ground to be good or thereabouts on Saturday, with tickets selling well.

British champion Jim Crowley, meanwhile, has picked up the ride on ante-post favourite Crystal Ocean in the William Hill St Leger at Doncaster on Saturday week.

He impressed in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood last month. Andrea Atzeni partnered Crystal Ocean at York and Ascot previously but likely rides the Roger Varian-trained Defoe at Doncaster. Ryan Moore steered Stoute's charge to his Goodwood victory, but he will almost certainly be claimed to ride for Aidan O'Brien and Coolmore on Town Moor, leaving the way clear for Crowley to get the leg-up for the first time.

Crowley said: "I'm very happy. I rode the horse this morning, he went really well and I was very impressed."

Meanwhile, Co Armagh trainer Stephen McConville and his son Michael could face a lengthy ban after being charged by the British Horseracing Authority over a drug test taken from Anseanachai Cliste at the Cheltenham Festival.

The horse returned positive for cobalt, an essential trace dietary mineral required by all mammals which has been at the centre of a number of high-profile failed drug tests tin Australian racing.

"Both myself and my son Michael have been notified by the (BHA) that a hearing will take place on September 19," the trainer said.

"We have to date cooperated with the BHA and (its) team dealing with the issue and will continue to do so. We look forward to the conclusion of this unfortunate occurrence."

This is a case that will be closely monitored in Ireland, as it will have clear repercussions.

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Irish Independent

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