Vautour can show he is at another level
Mullins has dropped his enigmatic star back to the shorter trip of two miles
Barry Geraghty: “Vautour is a very good horse and him coming down in distance is the only hope we have.” Photograph: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Amid the hoopla surrounding Vautour’s Cheltenham participation last month, the race rarely mentioned, and the one some suspect might have been his best option, was the two-mile champion chase, a theory intriguingly put to the test in the Punchestown festival’s Day One feature.
Rather than pitch Vautour into a clash with his old rival Cue Card over three miles tomorrow, Willie Mullins has dropped his enigmatic star back to the minimum trip for the €200,000 Boylesports Champion Chase.
Mixing things up in terms of distance is nothing new for Mullins. He memorably switched Vautour and Faugheen around in expected assignments here in 2014 to devastating effect. On that occasion Vautour went up in trip but this 2016 reduction could have longer-term reverberations.
Last month the controversial decision was taken to opt for Grade 1 middle-ground in the Ryanair. That isn’t an option at Punchestown, but if Vautour manages to win impressively today then it could leave Mullins and owner Rich Ricci with something of a dilemma.
Their outstanding novice Douvan is currently favourite to relieve Sprinter Sacre of his Queen Mother crown in 2017 but there’s a school of thought which suspects the Vautour, which turned the Ryanair into a rout, could well have dominated the two-mile championship in similar fashion.
With Un De Sceaux indicating again at Sandown over the weekend that good ground puts him at a disadvantage, and Douvan’s potential appearing limitless at a variety of trips, it may not be farfetched to envisage a flamboyant display by Vautour resulting in him being tested again at two miles next season.
As it is he has to bounce back from a shock fall at Aintree 18 days ago when starting at 1-5 in the Melling Chase ultimately won by God’s Own.
That looked a rare aberration and Mullins has reported: “He was a bit sore for a day or two but is good now. With Sprinter Sacre and Un De Sceaux both having ran at Sandown we gave it though and decided to go back to two miles with him.”
God’s Own is a Grade 1 festival winner in 2014, but is joined by a more fascinating cross-channel raider in Simonsig, the double Cheltenham festival winner who looked to have the world at his feet but has had just one run since the 2013 Arkle due to a litany of injuries.
The Nicky Henderson team should know a lot more about where they stand with Simonsig after this race but so could the Vautour camp.
Special Tara was just three lengths off Sprinter Sacre at Cheltenham and represents some of the best specialist two-mile form around. Henry De Bromhead’s charge will relish the ground, is a proven Grade 1 winner and boasts rock-solid credentials.
However, it’s not just bookmaker odds which reflects a suspicion that Vautour’s is a talent on another level.