Willie Mullins has confirmed he plans to take the wraps off Douvan in Sunday's Hilly Way Chase at Cork, and the trends point towards last season's star novice getting his new campaign off to a successful start.
Mullins is pursuing a ninth victory in 10 years in the Grade 2 highlight. Only the Henry De Bromhead-trained Days Hotel upset the Mullins applecart in 2012, and the champion trainer believes the Hilly Way is a good start for Douvan who is already a best priced 8-11 for Champion Chase glory at Cheltenham in March.
“I didn’t want to send him to the Tingle Creek. I knew it would be a tough, real raw race, and I thought Un De Sceaux would be better equipped,” Mullins said.
“Douvan is only coming out of novice company, and I wanted to start him off a bit easier and build him up towards the big races at the festivals.
“Originally I thought Un De Sceaux might go [to Cork] – a local horse at a local track – but I changed my mind...When you’ve got good horses you’ve got to run them where the races are, and they’ve a nice race in Cork.”
Douvan still remains in Sunday’s Grade 1
Chase ahead of Tuesday’s five-day stage, but it is his stable companion Djakadam, also owned by
, who looks like defending his crown in the Punchestown highlight.
It was Un De Sceaux who ultimately emerged best in a memorable duel with Sire De Grugy for last Saturday's Tingle Creek, and Ruby Walsh appears to feel a return to Ascot in January might be a profitable next move for the horse.
Un De Sceaux won the Clarence House Chase last season, and Walsh said: "I'm sure he's entered at Christmas. He had a plenty hard enough race for his first run of the season, and whether he turns out that quick only time will tell.
“He won at Ascot last year, and I’m sure going back there wouldn’t be out of the question. We know he gets further so stepping up in trip won’t be a problem, but ground will be the deciding factor in that.”
National hunt prize
Mullins secured another national hunt prize at Monday’s
Horse Racing Ireland
awards in Dublin where he nominated Annie Power’s Champion Hurdle success at Cheltenham as his highlight of 2016.
It's a year in which he has landed a remarkable 28 Grade 1 races in Ireland alone, as well as a first Group 1 victory on the flat with Wicklow Brave in the Irish St Leger.
Aidan O'Brien won Horse Racing Ireland's flat award and could wind up another spectacular year in Group 1-style in Hong Kong on Sunday morning.
Highland Reel is odds-on in most ante-post lists to win the mile and a half Vase at the International Carnival in Sha Tin for a second year running.
An O’Brien spokesman reported last month’s Breeders Cup winner to be well, and added: “He’s travelled well, and everything is good. We’ll just keep him ticking over and freshen him up.”