Anticipation surrounds Acapella Bourgeois’s first start for Mullins
Gordon Elliott’s Outlander bids for Grade One Glory in Haydock’s Betfair Chase
Acapella Bourgeois has his first start for Willie Mullins in the Ladbrokes Troytown Chase at Navan on Sunday. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho
The first Grade One of the British jumps season will feature Gordon Elliott’s Outlander at Haydock on Saturday.
But this weekend’s single most important figure could ultimately prove to be the one next to Acapella Bourgeois when he has his first start for Willie Mullins at Navan on Sunday.
An official 149 rating means the ex-Sandra Hughes trained horse has joint-topweight for the €100,000 Ladbrokes Troytown Chase and must concede up to two stone to some of his 21 rivals.
That opposition will include half a dozen Elliott hopefuls as he aims for four-in-a-row in the prestigious handicap won last year by Empire Of Dirt, the centrepiece of an outstanding 41,276-1 six-timer for the local trainer.
Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team have six Troytown hopes of their own on a card which will earlier see their new great white hope Samcro bid to maintain his unbeaten record.
Outlander is a Gigginstown stalwart already and will provide an early season cross-channel Gold Cup form link by lining up against Cue Card and Bristol de Mai in Haydock’s Betfair Chase. It’s the first leg of a potential million pounds Triple Crown culminating in March’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Even allowing for all that though many will suspect the most relevant long-term Gold Cup hint won’t come in the Grade One but in Navan’s big handicap prize and the quandary presented for punters by Acapella Bourgeois.
In such fiercely competitive handicaps the already low percentage of topweight winners generally slides even further. It will also be Acapella Bourgeois’ first race in seven months. Yet on Friday the big-race sponsors reported already halving his price to 3-1 favourite.
Part of that is due to evidence provided in last month’s Munster National of just how lethal to layers a horse inherited by Mullins can be.
Total Recall moved with Acapella Bourgeois after Sandra Hughes’s retirement and carrying the same Slaneyville Syndicate colours at Limerick he made a mockery of his mark to win easily as a well backed 2-1 favourite.
If Mullins conjures similar levels of improvement in Acapella Bourgeois then bookmakers will be entitled to run scared.
Throw into the equation too those hopes for Acapella Bourgeois developing into a genuine Gold Cup contender – he is already as low as 16-1 for Cheltenham in March – and time could make this mark of 149 look like a gift to punters from the handicap gods.
If the impact of his switch is unknowable then it’s fact that Mullins’s new recruit has already shown how much he can relish three miles on heavy ground around Navan.
His front-running rout in last February’s Ten Up Chase was hugely impressive anyway. However putting 32 lengths between himself and Road To Respect is even more noteworthy given the latter’s subsequent elevation to potential Gold Cup status himself.
Acapella Bourgeois did subsequently fail to show the same level of ability in two starts but ground conditions had turned better by then.
Any number of cases can be made for any number of his rivals in formbook terms on Sunday. And ordinarily the idea of having them all on their side as punters pile into a short-priced topweight would have bookmakers licking their lips. Plenty will be prepared to bet it’s different this time.
Despite the cold weather snap, officials at Navan report that “no problems” are anticipated ahead of Sunday’s fixture and Gowran’s authorities are also confident about their Saturday card.
“The forecast I’m looking at says it is supposed to get down to minus one overnight so I can’t imagine ground frost will be an issue,” said the Gowran manager, Eddie Scally, on Friday. “It dropped to minus three last night and it had cleared by 10.00. There’s no fear about racing.”
Only Altior and his stable companion Douvan are ahead of Min in Queen Mother Champion Chase betting lists so he should have little more than a remunerative school around Gowran on his comeback run.
Only Min disrupted Gordon Elliott’s memorable wipe-out of Navan’s Troytown card a year ago and his subsequent Grade One success at Christmas indicated the Mullins runner has the potential to be even better over fences than he was over flights.
As well as Min and Acapella Bourgeois, Paul Townend can look forward to five other weekend spins for Mullins and the novice pair of Carter McKay and Sharjah can get the better of their Elliott trained rivals at Gowran.
The Mullins-Elliott rivalry will then continue to the Beginners Chase which looks a potential match between Tin Soldier and Monbeg Notorious.
A total of nine will line up for Sunday’s Monksfield Novice Hurdle but all eyes will be on the hugely regarded Samcro, memorably described recently by Davy Russell as being “as good a horse as we’ll ever see”.
With billing like that anything other than a dominant display by Jack Kennedy’s mount will feel like a let-down.