Douvan leads the first day attack for Mullins at Punchestown
Champion trainer’s former star in good shape to claim the festival’s first major pot
Douvan could give Willie Mullins a valuable prize in the €275,000 Boylesports Champion Chase. Photograph: Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images
If the game’s permutations often seem impenetrable to the casual observer anyone can get their head around the straightforward tot that will decide who is crowned champion trainer this Saturday.
Elliott’s prizemoney haul of €4,732,388 so far this season means Mullins (€4,210,975) has over half a million Euro to make up.
Elliott has momentum on his side too. He has edged out Mullins to both the English and Irish Grand Nationals already this month. He has beaten his great rival to the benchmark of 200 winners in a season as well. And he’s got the crucial support of Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team.
Having come up agonisingly short in the final week crescendo to last season, Elliott must secretly suspect bookmakers are correct to make him odds-on this time. Certainly numbers won’t be an issue as he has 25 declarations for the Day One festival action. Neither will desire.
“We’ve had an unbelievable season and to train 200 winners was fantastic and to win both Grand National’s was incredible. But if I could swap every single one of those to be champion trainer I would,” Elliott admitted.
However the memory of last season’s epic climax is going to resonate throughout the upcoming five days.
Mullins had less than €400,000 to make up in 2017 and ultimately secured a 10th title in a row by just less than €200,000. There’s a bigger gap this time yet he’s only 5-4 to repeat the feat. That’s because Mullins somehow won a year ago despite a not particularly vintage festival by his standards.
He made almost a million prizemoney but it was still nothing like his 2015 festival rampage when he won 16 races including 10 of the dozen Grade Ones.
Douvan and Un Des Sceaux were among those and are back among a Mullins festival squad that could run up to 100 runners overall this week and which has 11 Grade One contenders on the first day alone.
If Mullins can approach 2015 levels of dominance then any shade of odds-against about him again pipping Elliott at the post could be the best bet of the week.
“The championship is all to play for, I think,” he said. “After being beaten in two photo-finishes to two Nationals, maybe Lady Luck owes me a bit back!”
If various differences enrich the nature of their rivalry it can’t disguise a similarly intense competitive drive. Both men are prepared to throw everything they have at this week when even the tiniest place money might yet prove crucial.
The signs of that are all over the opening day feature, the €275,000 Boylesports Champion Chase. There’s €162,250 for first but over 100 grand to be fought over down the places to sixth. And both Mullins and Elliott have four runners each.
Later this week the hugely exciting novice Samcro will be a popular Elliott ‘banker’ whatever race he runs in. But it’s his predecessor as racing’s ‘Golden Boy’ who looks like making it advantage-Mullins in the festival’s first major pot.
If the racing world looked to be Douvan’s oyster prior to his 2017 Champion Chase defeat then time hasn’t prevented him still looking like a jewel.
After overcoming that pelvic injury that ended his unbeaten record for Mullins, Douvan looked set for a prolonged stay on the injury sidelines during the winter only to dramatically return to fitness in time for Cheltenham.
Despite every setback there was a fluency and style to his Champion Chase performance that conjured images of his pomp until a fall that left the race feeling very anti-climactic indeed.
Douvan is joined by both Un De Sceaux and Min in this. But the time looks ripe now for a return to the imperious Douvan of old.
Mullins also has four in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle with Getabird apparently the stable number one and back to the scene of his impressive victory over Mengli Khan back in the depths of winter.
Getabird was behind the Elliott hope in Cheltenham’s Supreme though when running far too keen and was better subsequently at Fairyhouse.
He might not be one to take a very short price on however and if ground conditions remain “yielding” a value alternative could be his stable companion, Sharjah.
This one was fourth to Getabird at Fairyhouse but that was on the same sort of testing conditions he ran on at Cheltenham and Leopardstown prior to that.
It’s worth recalling how he looked all over a Grade One winner on better going at Leopardstown over Christmas until falling at the last. He has Patrick Mullins back on board for the first time since then and also sports a first-time tongue-strap.
It’s Elliott who has a numerical edge in the third Grade One of the day, the Growise Champion Novice Chase. In contrast Henry De Bromhead relies solely on Monalee. The RSA runner-up can leave his rivals scrambling for place money. But the one certainty this week is it will be some scramble.