Douvan to stick to two-mile trip after brilliant return

Djakadam claims Durkan Chase to help Willie Mullins to a Sunday six-timer

Djakadam ridden by Ruby Walsh jumps the last to win The John Durkan Chase at Punchestown. Photograph:   Niall Carson/PA Wire

Djakadam ridden by Ruby Walsh jumps the last to win The John Durkan Chase at Punchestown. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

Douvan’s name may already be getting mentioned in the same breath as the ultimate Gold Cup champion Arkle but he is set to be campaigned over the minimum two mile trip this season after a sparkling return to action at Cork.

The horse Willie Mullins has described as the most exciting he’s ever had through his hands made all to win the Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase by 22 lengths at odds of 1-6 under jockey Paul Townend.

Mullins was at Punchestown where 15 minutes before Douvan’s race, another of owner Rich Ricci’s stars, Djakadam, landed the John Durkan Chase for a second year in a row.

He is 8-1 to make it third time lucky in the Gold Cup in March.

Rarely though has a Grade One played such second-fiddle to a Grade Two as this and it was Mullins’s insistence that Douvan will remain at two miles which is likely to be the longest-term reverberation from an afternoon when the champion trainer saddled half a dozen winners between the two tracks.

If Townend’s “awesome” summation about Douvan was succinct, then Mullins betrayed a little irritation amidst the satisfaction at such a splendid performance.

“I can’t see why people wants to go out in trip,” he queried before adding: “I’m happy to do that [stay at two miles] this year.”

Ricci too indicated the Queen Mother Champion Chase – for which Douvan is now as low as 4-9 favourite – is the big Cheltenham target.

“The Dial-A-Bet at Leopardstown seems the right race next. After that the two mile programme in Ireland isn’t brilliant so he might go straight to Cheltenham. But we’ll stay over two miles and take it from there next year,” said the American owner.

Most exciting

It’s that reference to next year which means more than a few eyes will probably already look even further ahead than Cheltenham 2017. If that sounds as hopelessly romantic as comparisons to Arkle are hysterical, it won’t prevent the torrent of expectation surrounding jump racing’s most exciting horse.

It’s a racing curio how ‘could be anything’ potential can so often trump the proven article in terms of public excitement.

Djakadam is undoubtedly proven at the highest senior level. He is still officially rated 1lb superior to Douvan. But he isn’t unbeaten in 11 and he doesn’t possess that potent brew of brilliance and potential which comes with such a spotless record.

Romance might encourage those without a stake in Douvan to dream of the Gold Cup while the going is good. However Mullins has always possessed cold-eyed professional detachment when it comes to pursuing the most winnable pot.

He has famously finished runner up in the Gold Cup five times but he has yet to win the Champion Chase too.

And he has also been down the Arkle comparison road before. The ‘A’ word was used in connection to Florida Pearl as well.  That wonderful star ultimately couldn’t live up to such billing and it must rankle that his exploits always got viewed through such an unfair prism.

Those exploits included winning the Durkan 15 years ago and the race’s Gold Cup pedigree is obvious from a roll-of-honour containing Kicking King and Don Cossack since then.

Djakadam has finished runner-up in the ‘blue-riband’ for the last two years and if he smacks more of durability than brilliance than that is often what’s required on the last day of Cheltenham. Crucially his ability to recover from a mistake at the seventh fence on Sunday indicates he could still be a work in progress.

“I’m happy he’s learned to find a leg at last, when he made a mistake at the one going down the hill,” Mullins said. “I’m delighted he could win that first time out. He’s making progress.”

The Mullins-Ricci-Ruby Walsh team also scored at Punchestown with the novices Turcaga and American Tom. The champion trainer’s rival, Gordon Elliott, won a handicap with Dawerann, but it was Mullins who brought up a four-timer with Come To Me in the bumper.

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