Djakadam can confirm Gold Cup credentials in Lexus
Vroum Vroum Mag can bring Willie Mullins more festive cheer in Christmas Hurdle
Djakadam has been runner-up in the last two Cheltenham Gold Cups: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Believe some headlines and the spectacular Thistlecrack is already past the Gold Cup post. However, the more stolid Djakadam can prove perseverance counts too in Wednesday’s Lexus Chase at Leopardstown and establish himself as perhaps the biggest threat to the new ‘blue-riband’ favourite.
Djakadam will never figure prominently in any ‘aplomb’ stakes.
His career is most notable so far for finishing runner-up in the last two Cheltenham Gold Cups, both times exhibiting the sort of grit which will never capture the public imagination the way Thistlecrack did at Kempton on Monday, yet often trumps ‘flash’ when it counts most over fences.
If the English novice can dominate a Gold Cup the way he did the King George then he truly will be steeplechasing’s new headline act: but he’s an awfully short favourite and there’s over 10 weeks for his downfall to be plotted.
Come March no one will be keener to spike such ‘blue-riband’ hysteria than Mullins, who once had his own flash Gold Cup favourite in Florida Pearl yet is maddeningly still without a win in the race he covets more than any other.
Florida Pearl finished runner-up in the Gold Cup in 2000, since when Mullins has finished second five more times, including the last two years with Djakadam.
Talk of ‘hoodoo’ only ramps up pressure and expectation – something the Thistlecrack factor might dilute a little – but Mullins got a lesson in perseverance from the Lexus Chase and Djakadam can successfully use the €150,000 feature to boost his own Gold Cup claims.
The champion trainer finally landed the Lexus with Don Poli a year ago and in a race which looks set to establish Ireland’s Cheltenham Gold Cup pecking order he will be keen to follow up.
Don Poli is back too but as part of the new Gigginstown regime which sees other ex-Mullins runners, Valseur Lido and Outlander, among a five-strong team of Michael O’Leary-owned runners.
The Ryanair boss will also be represented by the 2014 winner Road To Riches as he pursues a Lexus hat-trick, while Jonjo O’Neill, another double-Lexus winner, travels with both More Of That and Taquin Du Seuil.
Cross-channel raiders have won the race seven times in the last decade but these travellers look to be strictly division two in Gold Cup terms so it will be disappointing if the home team can’t see them off.
Last season Valseur Lido was campaigned in division two terms in relation to the Gold Cup but he is very much Giggintown’s number one ‘blue-riband’ hope this time based on a spectacular first run for Henry De Bromhead last month.
Valsuer Lido sluiced up at Down Royal and has been a long-time favourite to follow up here.
Djakadam was typically less flamboyant on his own first start of the season when landing the Durkan, and just as typically found himself playing second fiddle to Douvan in the headline stakes afterwards. But while it wasn’t spectacular it was authoritative and should set him up perfectly for this.
It can be easily forgotten that Djakadam is only rising eight, theoretically only now coming to his peak. The Fellow famously finished runner-up in two Gold Cups, then finished fourth in one, before finally landing steeplechasing’s ultimate prize in 1994.
It can also be forgotten how Djakadam’s chances of finally securing centre stage this season have probably been factored into the decision to campaign Douvan at two miles. This Lexus can provide a timely reminder that the Gold Cup is a long way from being won yet.
Wednesday’s other Grade One prize is the Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle and after being ruled out of Monday’s Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, the remarkable Vroum Vroum Mag can prove her versatility by successfully stepping up to three miles.
The mare lost her unbeaten record for Mullins in the Hatton’s Grace when circumstances didn’t quite conspire for her. She faces a task on official ratings against Snow Falcon but should strip a much different proposition for that Fairyhouse outing.
Bleu Et Rouge is the prime Mullins hope in the Beginners Chase, although the Grade One hurdle winner could face a task against his former stable companion Gangster. This one ran a fine race when chasing home American Tom at Punchestown and should relish a distance step-up.
Mullins initially teamed up with Sheikh Fahad’s Pearl Bloodstock team for the smart bumper performer Castello Sforza and the point winner Carter McKay carries the same colours in the finale.
Leopardstown: 12.15 – Montalbano; 12.50 – Bridgets Pet; 1.20 – Gangster; 1.50 – Vroum Vroum Mag; 2.25 – Tudor City; 3.00 – Djakadam (Nap); 3.35 – Carter McKay.
Nap and Double: Djakadam & Golden Plan