Douvan saunters to another short-odds victory at Punchestown

Willie Mullins’s star remains a 1/3 favourite for Cheltenham’s Champion Chase

Douvan ridden by Ruby Walsh jumps the last to win The Boylesports Tied Cottage Steeplechase at Punchestown. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Douvan ridden by Ruby Walsh jumps the last to win The Boylesports Tied Cottage Steeplechase at Punchestown. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

When asked to rate his ability as an amateur jockey, the former head of Bank of Ireland Mark Hely Hutchinson used to famously point out that he rode Arkle twice – and lost twice. After Douvan’s latest lap of honour at Punchestown on Sunday, a certain Bertrand Lestrade may feel a twinge of sympathy.

It was Lestrade who somehow managed to finish runner-up on the most exciting steeplechaser in training when he made his racecourse debut at the French provincial track of St Malo less than three years ago.

A month later another French jockey, Jacques Ricou, took over from Lestrade at Compeigne and won. Soon after that the deal was done to take the strapping youngster to Willie Mullins and into the hearts of Ireland’s racing fans.

So much was obvious again when even prohibitive 1/14 odds for the Grade Two Boylesports Tied Cottage Chase couldn’t shake the public’s fascination with this prodigiously gifted animal who remains a 1/3 favourite to lift the Queen Mother Champion Chase crown at Cheltenham next month and who knows what after that.  

Even the semblance of meaningful opposition disappeared when Smashing was pulled up with half a mile to go and Douvan would probably do more in a home workout than he did in beating Draycott Place by six lengths. However, this was a workout that yielded a €26,550 first prize and allowed an appreciative crowd another close-up view of horse who is now unbeaten in 13 starts for Mullins.

For once, actual competition seemed the last thing on most people’s minds, something that once used to be the case with Arkle.

Excitement

If comparisons to ‘Himself’ sound excitable, there’s no disputing the excitement that Douvan continues to bring to racing right now. He goes to Cheltenham with a perfect ‘10 out of 10’ record over fences beckoning and there’s an elan to how he keeps destroying every rival put in front of him which suggests even better may be to come.

If that ultimately turns out to be wishful thinking, it’s still a potent idea for anyone who thrills to the sight of a horse racing over fences, and even the famously professional Ruby Walsh admitted: “He got a great crowd when he ran in Cork, and at Leopardstown, and it’s great to see people come out to see him here too.

“He’s a wonderful horse. He just sauntered along in front, doing his own thing. When I gave him a squeeze after the second last he jumped right through the bridle.”

If the race turned into little more than an uncompetitive exhibition, it still looked to have Mullins living on his nerves and he conceded: “I’m relieved that’s over.”

Considering the series of reverses the champion trainer has had to contend with in recent weeks with other Rich Ricci-owned stars such as Faugheen, Annie Power and Min, he could be forgiven anxiety for a horse he has long since rated the best he’s ever had through his hands.

It probably doesn’t help that comparisons to perhaps the greatest steeplechaser ever to look through a bridle bring their own pressures to the man in charge of a horse in which so many hopes are invested.

So Mullins probably doesn’t need to know that Arkle had just five jockeys through his career and with Walsh, Paul Townend and Patrick Mullins having done the honours since Douvan left France, the young pretender has also had five.

Phone call

Certainly the look on Walsh’s face on Sunday suggests Bertrand Lestrade need not bother waiting for a phone call.

Earlier it was a different story for the Walsh-Mullins team as the odds-on Cilaos Emery came up a neck short of the Gordon Elliott-trained Mick Jazz in the Listed novice hurdle. It was a disappointing outcome for the free-running Supreme hope but the winner will have his own festival target in the County Hurdle.

“We were toying with the Betfair Hurdle next week for him but winners in Ireland are more important than England,” said Elliott, presumably in a nod to his battle with Mullins for the trainers title. “The way he works I knew he’d get to the turn in on the bridle, but in fairness he pulled it out.”

Elliott doubled up in the bumper when Oakley Hall just overhauled Judgement Day. “It’s the wrong track for him,” the trainer said in reference to the race taking place on the inner course. “He’ll be a real three-mile chaser down the road.”

Enda Bolger continued his dominance of the banks events when Auvergnat provided 22-year-old jockey Donal McIntyre with his first winner as a professional, and a first on the track, just two days after getting his licence.

The winner will line up next in the Cross-Country Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

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