Douvan can justify reputation on day one at Leopardstown
Willie Mullins’s horse the headline act in race that gathers best two-mile novice talent
Douvan (left) and Vautour in Willie Mullins’s yard in Closesutton, Bagenalstown, Co Carlow. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
There’s an irony in Ireland’s joint-Horses of the Year for 2015, Don Cossack and Faugheen, being on Christmas duty at Kempton which will probably wash over the majority of Leopardstown’s St Stephens Day attendance who nevertheless will have their own Grade 1 treat to relish.
Just four line-up for the €90,000 Racing Post Chase but they comprise the cream of this country’s two-mile novice talent and in Douvan, Day One of Leopardstown’s famous Christmas festival has a worthy headline act of its own.
Acclaimed by Willie Mullins as being as fine a prospect as the champion trainer has ever had through his hands, Douvan was outstanding over hurdles last season and almost foot-perfect on his sole start to date over fences at Navan last month.
Even a final fence lunge was generally taken as an encouraging display of self-preservation which will be welcomed by Paul Townend who reunites with Douvan after riding him to success on his Irish debut over a year ago.
A year ago Vautour brought a similar reputation to this race, started 1-4, and made such an error at the seventh fence that Townend did well to stay with him, although they couldn’t catch up Clarcam.
Two years ago another Rich Ricci-owned star, Champagne Fever, started odds on too and got beaten. Even though Douvan has just three opponents on this occasion, an argument can be made for them actually representing an even tougher assignment for this latest Mullins hotpot.
Sizing John finished behind Douvan three times over hurdles but has looked very good in two starts over fences while Ttebbob has made such an impression in his own two starts to date that the handicapper already rates him on 154.
That isn’t too far off the figure Douvan achieved over flights last season and Ttebbob has looked a real chasing natural, making the pace, jumping accurately and he possesses the sort of proven stamina that makes any idea of him coming back to you look very presumptuous.
Velvet Maker looks a hugely promising type as well so it all adds up to what proves to be a real test of Douvan’s reputation.
It is a colossal reputation though: Vautour bounced back from last year’s defeat to turn into a top-notcher over fences. If Douvan can imperiously swat these away then Mullins’s judgement will be spectacularly vindicated again.
Luke Dempsey substitutes for Cooper on Ball d’Arc in the opening maiden hurdle and if the claimer can get this one to relax properly he should step up considerably for a disappointing effort at Navan last time.
Champion amateur Patrick Mullins dons the Gigginstown silks in the other maiden hurdle and the French recruit A Toi Phil surely deserves better luck than he endured at Clonmel on Tuesday when running out soon after the start and unseating Mullins.
Mark Walsh steps up in Geraghty’s place for Campeador in the Grade 2 Juvenile Hurdle. It will be the grey’s first start in Ireland but he is a hurdles winner from France last summer and is very highly rated at Gordon Elliott’s yard.
He represents a new element to a juvenile scene which was lit up by Rashaan’s ‘Winter Festival’ win for Colin Kidd. The triple-winner has to concede weight all-round on this occasion and although Footpad won well on his own Irish debut, big things are expected from Campeador.
Forty Foot Tom and Treat Yourself fought out the finish of last year’s handicap chase and they renew rivalry on Saturday with Luke Dempsey’s claim possibly giving last year’s runner up an edge on this occasion.