Djakadam can lay down marker for raider Mullins
Gold Cup favourite runs in BetBright Trial Chase at Cheltenham
Ruby Walsh may have to choose between Vautour and Djakadam in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Those making Willie Mullins an odds-on favourite to be champion trainer in Britain this season are pinning their confidence on him dominating Cheltenham in March, although a significant pre-festival cross-channel raid today led by the Gold Cup favourite Djakadam can prove profitable too.
Djakadam has to concede weight all-round in the BetBright Trial Chase sponsored by his owner, Rich Ricci, and an impressive victory over Many Clouds and Smad Place at Cheltenham’s ‘Trials Day’ will strengthen Mullins’s hand for a first Gold Cup success, as well as leaving Ruby Walsh with a potential headache.
The champion jockey could ultimately face a Gold Cup dilemma between Djakadam and another Ricci-owned star, Vautour, with Newbury’s Denman Chase on Saturday week emerging as a possible target for the King George runner-up.
Just over an hour after Djakadam lines up, another Ricci festival favourite, Limini, has just her second start in Fairyhouse’s Grade Three feature.
Currently a 6/4 market-leader for the new mares novice hurdle on day three of the festival, Limini impressively won her sole start to date last May.
Danny Mullins takes the reins on Limini since Paul Townend is on duty at Doncaster for two prime Cheltenham novice candidates, Up For Review and Shaneshill, as well as Morning Run in a Grade Two mares hurdle.
Only Barters Hill is ahead of Up For Review in betting for the Albert Bartlett and the pair get an early sighter of each other today, while Shaneshill’s principal opposition in the Grade Two novice chase could come from Vaniteux.
Numerically it is Punchestown’s Sunday card that will concentrate the Mullins team’s minds this weekend with nine runners, including half of the six-strong field in the featured Grade Two Boylesports Tied Cottage Chase.
Although Flemenstar put in a heart-warming Grade One hark back to his glory days over Christmas, it’s hard to see him overcoming all three of the Mullins hopes. In receipt of 8lbs, it could be Mozoltov who successfully builds on a return to form behind Nearly Nama’d earlier in the month.
Mullins also has three in the five-runner Listed Novice Hurdle and Myska can beat the males, something Bonny Kate can also achieve in the Grand National Trial.
In a measure designed to improve fields sizes, Horse Racing Ireland is trialling for three months – in every weight-for- age race where there are less than five declarations – an automatic 15-minute period during which additional declarations may be made by telephone.
Other measures include extending prize money to five places in all races and a greater percentage of prize money.