Willie Mullins has suffered some setbacks this week, not least the most unexpected defeat of Douvan in Wednesday’s Champion Chase, but the victories Yorkhill and Un De Sceaux reassures us all remains well with the stable.
Runner-up to Coneygree in 2015 and to Don Cossack in 2016, Djakadam faces nothing of the calibre of those two in this renewal. Having coming up short on those occasions, Mullins decided to try to change things by keeping the horse fresh for this bid. Off since finishing third behind Outlander in the Lexus Chase, he is sure to be ready to push hard from the outset, and can gain the reward his previous efforts deserve.
Native River is the up-and-coming horse, with wins in the Hennessy at Newbury, the Welsh National at Chepstow, and the Denman Chase. This is another step up in grade, and he has something to prove at this level, but cannot be dismissed.
Minella Rocco and More Of That also have each-way claims, though neither is straight-forward. The former won the four-miler at this meeting in 2016, but his jumping lacks fluency, and that is likely to catch him out at this level, while More Of That is very smart but burst a blood vessel when finishing third in last season’s RSA Chase.
This week has been another tremendously successful one for the Festival’s leading trainer, Nicky Henderson, and he can get the final day off to the perfect start by claiming a seventh Triumph Hurdle, with the highly-regarded Charli Parcs.
The four-year-old, winner of his only start in his native France, made a superb start to his career with Henderson, winning at Kempton. On that occasion, his jumping was quite spectacular, and he was never asked a serious question as he trounced one of today’s rivals, Master Blueeyes.
He was still in contention but looking less fluent before falling at the second-last behind the same horse next time, but he was reported to have suffered a set-back prior to that outing, and may have needed the run.
If that effort can be forgiven, and the previous outing used as the performance by which to gauge him, he will take a world of beating. The danger is likely to come from unbeaten hurdler Defi Du Seuil, who is also held in the highest regard. He has been at his most impressive in soft ground, which is a minor concern, but his class is not in doubt. He and Charli Parcs look head and shoulders above the opposition.
Brilliant hunter chaser On The Fringe can land the Christie’s Foxhunters’ Chase for the third consecutive season. He was beaten on his only start thus far this season, but has always needed his seasonal return to put him right.
Finishing second to the race-fit Foxrock, having outjumped and travelled better than the winner, told us he was in great form and, despite being a 12-year-old, should be too sharp for his rivals.
Henry De Bromhead had a great day on Wednesday, winning the Champion Chase with Special Tiara, and he can taste further Grade 1 success with Monalee, who runs in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
Strictly on form and at sthe weights, he has something to find with Death Duty on their previous meeting, at Navan, but he looks a horse of immense potential and there was an awful lot to like about his most recent win, at Clonmel.
Better ground should prompt further improvement, and he can take this at the expense of Augusta Kate, who was in the process of running a huge race until falling at the last behind Death Duty, on what was just her second start over timber.