Punchestown preview: All eyes on imperious Douvan
Alpha Des Obeaux to put seal on Mouse Morris’s successful spring campaign
Douvan ridden by Ruby Walsh wins the Racing Post Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham earlier this year. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Douvan is an all but unbackable favourite to bring his record for Willie Mullins to a perfect 10-out-of-10 at Punchestown today, probably with another faultless 10-out-of-10 performance.
The biggest Day Three festival pot is the €200,000 Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle but there’s little quibbling with Douvan’s star-status in the Ryanair Novice Chase.
The horse ordained by Willie Mullins as the best ever through his hands following a flawless novice hurdle career has looked even more impressive in five starts over fences this season, continuing to look like he has the racing world at his feet.
That he has started odds-on in those five races, including at 1/14, 2/13, 2/11, and 1/4 when landing Cheltenham’s Arkle, hasn’t impacted on the palpable public excitement that surrounds the imperious French- bred horse.
So for a festival shorn of the star quality that Don Cossack, Thistlecrack and Annie Power could have brought this week, he brings a welcome aesthetic boost even if he is set to again start at an eye-wateringly short price.
As always there’s an obvious danger in presumption when it comes to racing over fences but on form this should be little more than a victory parade for Douvan.
He has beaten Sizing John five times, The Game Changer twice, routed Ttebbob and Baltimore Rock, and the one opponent he hasn’t face before, Mr Picotee, is rated over three stone inferior.
The one likely question mark is the fact Douvan took in Aintree en-route to here but he won so comfortably there, and he has so much in hand, that even a slight dip in performance shouldn’t prevent him winning well.
“Douvan has been doing everything well since Aintree,” Mullins has confirmed “Coming here this week, we were thinking it could be hard after running at Cheltenham and Liverpool. I’m happy with them all, but it’s just the year that it is that we are doing a few different things and there is every chance that a few more could run flat like some have.”
That will present some element of hope to the opposition. However, it’s surely a short price about this being another exhibition by the favourite, leaving any element of intrigue to afterwards and whether or not Mullins outlines definitive plans for next season.
Future plans for Alpha Des Obeaux look to revolve around fences but the Stayers Hurdle is a good opportunity for him to secure a Grade One over flights and continue Mouse Morris’s epically successful spring.
Talent and potential
Rule The World and Rogue Angel’s Grand National victories have catapulted the Co Tipperary-based trainer back to the forefront of the sport but it is easy to suspect Alpha Des Obeaux is the one that still most excites Morris in terms of talent and potential.
It’s easy to see why too as he was the only one to give the outstanding Thistlecrack a race at Cheltenham and Morris continues to believe he will be even better over fences.
“I wouldn’t wish an injury on any horse, so I would never say I’m glad Thistlecrack isn’t coming,” said Morris. “We’ve still got to go and win it and it won’t be easy, but Alpha proved at Cheltenham that he loves a bit of nice ground.”
On official ratings, Alpha Des Obeaux has only 1lb in hand of both the progressive Coral Cup winner Diamond King, and Shaneshill, runner up to Thistlecrack at Liverpool. However, three miles on decent going looks tailor-made for him.
Danny Mullins is a notable jockey booking for Willie Mullins’s latest French import, Ria d’Etel, an unchallenged Auteuil winner lining up for the mares novice hurdle.
The same Simon Munir colours will also be carried by another four-year-old, Missy Tata, who gets weight and has Jack Kennedy’s claim. She ran a fine fourth in the Fred Winter at Cheltenham and while Missy Tata may not relish the ground getting faster she does look to hold sound claims.
Here For The Craic is Danny Mullins’s spin in the opening handicap and after a good second on the flat at Leopardstown over a fortnight ago the horse looks reasonably treated.
A forgiving nature is required to back Sizing Codelco in the €65,000 handicap chase as he unseated at the first in Cheltenham’s Grand Annual and also in a Sandown Grade One in December.
He does have talent though, as a Naas second to Shaneshill illustrated, and he could be worth another chance.