Durkan stroll for Avrika Ligeonniere as Sir Des Champs hits the deck

Following his heavy at Punchestown Davy Russell stood down for rest of the day



Modern digital communication means the 10,000kms between Punchestown and Hong Kong was no barrier to Willie Mullins watching Arvika Ligeonniere win yesterday's John Durkan Chase and it also delivered Ireland's champion trainer the best sight of all after the line when Sir Des Champs emerged unscathed from a horrible fall in the Grade One feature.

Having saddle Simenon to finish fifth in the Hong Kong Vase earlier in the morning, neither distance nor an eight-hour time difference could have prevented Mullins from thinking his two star chasers would dominate the Durkan back home.

Certainly Flemenstar's defection due to injury robbed the €80,000 highlight of much of its excitement but not of its drama as Sir Des Champs took a horrible crashing fall at the third fence which left jockey Davy Russell stood down for the rest of the meeting and for a microsecond the worst entered everyone's minds at Punchestown.

But relief when last year's Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up walked away was trans-continental, allowing the Mullins camp the not inconsiderable pleasure of pocketing a €52,000 first prize, and another Grade One, as Arvika Ligeonniere easily beat his sole remaining rival Rubi Light by nine lengths.

Two-horse race
"It was very unlike Sir Des Champs but it's a chase and they're there to be jumped," said the winner's rider Ruby Walsh who enjoyed little more than a spin to win what effectively turned out to be a two-horse race.

Afterwards, a King George entry at Kempton was mentioned but Walsh’s thinking indicates a drop back to two miles may be next for Arvika Ligeonniere. “He has lots of pace and I would be inclined to go back in trip rather than go further. If you go further, you might take that out of his artillery because you’d want him to steady. So the Dial-A-Bet (at Leopardstown) might be a race for him,” he added.

Patrick Mullins was minding the home-ship for his father and indicated Walsh's instincts are favourite to be obeyed in terms of a Christmas target, with Sir Des Champs also still likely to take up a holiday option in the Lexus Chase.

"He's fine and it just looked like one of those things. All being well the Lexus will probably be next," said the champion amateur who later had an odds-on success in the bumper on Black Hercules. "If Ruby feels that about Arvika and the trip, that's probably the way we'll go. He's maybe better going right-handed but he has won a Grade One at Leopardstown already."

Spectacular style
Walsh later doubled up in spectacular style in the handicap chase when bringing Daring Article with a late rattle to just deny Canaly's jockey Bryan Cooper a hat-trick on the day.

Having earlier won a maiden hurdle on the Dessie Hughes-trained Apache Jack, Cooper stepped in for Russell on Bright New Dawn who made a winning debut over fences in the Beginners Chase, beating Walsh and Dogora in a sprint from the last.

“That was good for a first run. The second had had a run over fences and was getting 12lb so that’s a good start. He jumped well too. The three-mile Grade One (Fort Leney Chase) at Christmas looks the race for him,” said Hughes of the highly-regarded Gigginstown youngster.

Michael O’Leary’s team also scored in the opening maiden hurdle when The Game Changer sliced through the field to easily out-kick Clonard Lad from the last.

"He has ability but he doesn't like to be in front too long," said the winner's trainer Charlie Swan who rides out The Game Changer every day. "He's a half-brother to John's Spirit who's a bit the same. We'll have to step up in grade now."

n The Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas remains the next likely port of call for Sire De Grugy following his victory in the BetVictor Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on Saturday. Trainer Gary Moore fulfilled an ambition of a first Grade One success in the two-mile feature, and to make the occasion even more memorable his stable star was ridden by his son, Jamie.

“I hope to run him at Kempton,” said Moore. “I know we have take Sprinter Sacre on at some point and I’d rather it was there (on December 27th).”

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column