Djakadam can make it third time lucky in Gold Cup
Willie Mullins can back up remarkable Thursday haul by finally scoring the ultimate prize
Djakadam, with Ruby Walsh up, jumps the last ahead of Outlander, with Davy Russell up, on their way to winning The John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Steeplechase last December. Photograph: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile via Getty Images
If, in the week that’s in it, there’s a weird synchronicity to the idea of Djakadam finally giving Willie Mullins a longed-for success in a St Patrick’s Day Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup there’s also ample evidence that stranger things happen in racing all the time.
Even steeplechasing’s ‘blue riband’ has managed it. Welsh farmer Sirrel Griffiths ran Norton’s Coin in the race by mistake in 1990 and won at 100-1. And it’s a dozen years since Kicking King was ruled out through illness just a fortnight before the Gold Cup only to recover in time to win.
Mullins has endured the agony of finishing a Gold Cup runner-up on six occasions: gambling he finally wins the race he covets more than any other during a festival week in which his fortunes have fluctuated from despair to delight like never before is the sort of coincidence bet that makes little sense in few other contexts but racing’s.
The logic will certainly make no sense to those who argue that after finishing runner-up for the last two years, Djakadam has had his chance and blown it. It’s the same sort of logic which makes the tide of sentiment behind the veteran home favourite Cue Card seem indulgent.
He came down at the third last a year ago as Djakadam chased home Don Cossack in a stronger Gold Cup than this one appears to be. A year later there will be a surge of emotion behind Cue Card to atone. But he’s 11 now, an age when another year counts for a lot more than it does to Djakadam.
At his peak
At eight, the Mullins horse should now be at his peak. And it’s not like the Gold Cup can’t eventually be won having come close before. The Fellow was second twice before eventually winning in 1994 aged nine.
Djakadam’s overall profile remains that of a leading contender and if fateful considerations on top of that seem fanciful then they at least highlight how this Gold Cup is one of those wide-open renewals rather than a version that can be boiled down to a select couple.
That has plenty to do with a rate of attrition through the winter that has seen the trio of Don Cossack, Coneygree and Thistlecrack in particular ruled out.
The latter’s trainer Colin Tizzard still has Cue Card and the doughty stayer Native River to go to war with, and the Welsh National hero in particular looks likely to make the frame at least.
Owner JP McManus will also have two chances in Minella Rocco and More Of That, with the latter attracting plenty of attention on the back of his top hurdles form on good ground. However, it’s his Leopardstown run a month ago which also highlights the power of the Irish challenge on Friday.
More Of That looked booked for a place in that Irish Gold Cup but wouldn’t have overhauled Sizing John, who will also relish ground quick enough to merit watering. The doubt with him will be stamina over an extra two-and-a-half furlongs, although his stable’s positive overall form is a plus.
Champagne West, in contrast, would relish more testing conditions and it’s the potential impact of the ground that will be a vital factor for both Djakadam and Michael O’Leary’s hope for a third Gold Cup success, Outlander.
Both go on this type of surface but the suspicion remains they may be better on softer. However, this is a Gold Cup standard that could forgive such niggling doubts. The pair have met twice this season with Outlander finishing runner-up in the John Durkan before having his rival back in third in the Lexus over Christmas.
There would be a synchronicity too should it be this pair that wind up fighting out the finish of the sport’s ultimate prize considering the dynamic between Mullins, O’Leary and Gordon Elliott has dominated so much of this season.
Much of the glory has belonged to Elliott, including the first two days of this week. But momentum swung wildly back to Mullins on Day Three, maybe enough to give him a Gold Cup edge too.
It’s also hard to forget how the Gigginstown team’s spokesman, Eddie O’Leary, consistently nominated Djakadam as a standout Gold Cup bet prior to this week.
Maybe that was deflection tactic. Or maybe it was an uncanny forecast for Gigginstown’s great rival finally entering the Gold Cup winner’s enclosure.
Prediction – 1: Djakadam. 2: Outlander. 3: Native River.