Classy Djakadam makes striking return to action at Punchestown

Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Djakadam made a visually striking return to action when running away with the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial on a top-class card yesterday afternoon at Punchestown.
Classy Djakadam makes striking return to action at Punchestown

The six-year-old, who found only Coneygree too good in the Cotswolds, was starting off over a trip expected to be on the sharp side for him, but jockey Ruby Walsh was positive aboard the imposing gelding, and the result was a scintillating performance.

Flemenstar jumped off in front but Walsh, not happy with the early pace, soon sent his mount to the head of affairs.

With a fluent round of jumping, he maintained his position thereafter and the superior engine of the 7-4 favourite allowed him pull right away from the back of the last to beat stable companion Valseur Lido, officially rated 12lbs inferior, by 12 lengths.

“I’m delighted with the performance from both horses and they’ll come on equally from that run,” said winning trainer Willie Mullins.

“I wasn’t happy with Djakadam during the week and nearly wasn’t going to run him so, after the way he was, I’m absolutely delighted with that – it was some performance.”

When suggested the biggest threat to Djakadam in the straight was the loose-running Hidden Cyclone, Mullins quipped: “The form he was in today he’d have beaten loose horses.”

Explaining why he took the bull by the horns, winning jockey Walsh said: “I thought Flemenstar might go a bit quicker than he did, but they were going relatively slow so I let him roll along.”

Hidden Cyclone, though riderless after decanting Brian Hayes at the first fence down the back, had further impact on the race.

“I was hoping I’d be able to sit going into the straight before I’d quicken again, but I didn’t realise Hidden Cyclone was loose,” explained Walsh. “I thought ‘these horses want to get racing’ and that got me racing earlier than I wanted to.

“But he jumped the second-last well, was clever at the last, and galloped all the way to the line, as you’d expect.

“That was a good performance and when you’re looking at the whole year two and a half miles is probably a great trip to start at. He got enough of a test of stamina without going to the bottom.”

The Lexus Chase, and a potential rematch with Coneygree, is the likely next step on the road back to the Gold Cup.

“Christmas will be a whole different ball game,” he added. “The Lexus is shaping like it’s going to be one hell of a race.

“It’d be great for Leopardstown if Coneygree did come here but mightn’t be so great for us taking him on. That’s the only drawback, so maybe Coneygree would be better off in the King George, actually,” joked Walsh.

Djakadam has been trimmed to 8-1 for the Gold Cup, for which Coneygree remains favourite, at 6-1.

The Closutton team was back in the winner’s closure when Pont Alexandre gave an exhibition of jumping on his chasing debut, almost 1000 days after his last outing.

The highly regarded Balbir Du Mathan never allowed the odds-on favourite a moment’s rest, but the former Grade 1-winning Pont Alexandre was impeccable at most of the fences, and showed tremendous scope when getting in close at the final fence on both circuits.

Asked to quicken up the straight, he put more than eight lengths between himself and his persistent challenger, with Montys Meadow running a lovely race, back in third.

Mullins made no attempt to hide his admiration of the seven-year-old: “I couldn’t have asked for better, he jumped from fence to fence, quickened when he was asked, did everything right.

“He would have the ability to be a Coneygree, for the want of a better word,” he added, referring to the Gold Cup winner’s novice status.

“He wants three miles, if not further, and the sort of ability he has you’d imagine he’ll go for the RSA Chase.

“Whether I’ll come back with him at Christmas or not I don’t know. The engine looks good, but the whole thing is to keep him right, to keep four legs under him.”

Pont Alexandre was introduced at 20-1 for the RSA Chase but those odds lasted just a few minutes, and was he’s now no bigger than 14-1.

Another Cheltenham hopeful for the Mullins-Walsh team is Yorkhill, who made a winning debut over timber in the two-and-a-half-mile maiden hurdle.

Though keen for much of the trip, he proved too smart for the promising Road To Respect, as he pulled away late to win readily.

Patrick Mullins, representing his father, said: “Ruby said he’s improve a lot for the experience. He’s still quite green, has a huge engine, and I’d imagine that’ll put him right for Christmas.

“’If he settled he could go out in trip, but he was quite keen, has plenty of speed, and will be kept over shorter for now.”

The Andrea and Graham Wylie-owned winner is as low as 5-1 for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, though generally 10-1.

The Albert Bartlett looks a less-likely target, and he is as short as 10-1 (20-1 available) for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

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