All attempts to temper enthusiasm and curb expectation were lost in just two words: “just spectacular.”
Persuasive comment from winning rider Ruby Walsh, in perfect summary of yet another stunningly bloodless victory for Douvan, this time in the Grade One Ryanair Novice Chase on day three of the Punchestown festival.
With the week’s previous disappointments - the likes of Yorkhill and Cue Card - fresh in the mind, the layers were quick to push the pink button when the six-year-old acted up in the parade ring. But once Walsh jumped on board, he quietened down, and went about his business, ready to serve up another exhibition.
The 2-9 chance jumped off in company with old foe Sizing John, but a typically slick and economical jump across the first fence established a narrow lead – one he would never relinquish.
Aside from getting in close at one obstacle, it was poetry, just horse and jockey going through the motions as he glided across the fences and then stretched his legs – most impressively, if a touch ostentatiously – from the back of the last to put a rapidly increasing distance between himself and the patiently and cleverly ridden The Game Changer.
In victory he joins Istabraq, Sprinter Sacre and On The Fringe in a select group to have won at each of the three spring festivals in the same season. “It was as good a performance as we could have possibly hoped for after that heavy schedule,” said Mullins. “You wouldn’t have known he’d been to Cheltenham and Aintree. He’s an incredible horse and what you saw there is what we are lucky enough to see every morning at home.”
He looks a natural for the Champion Chase but connections are not ruling out running over further, with the Gold Cup very much in the picture.
“He travels and has the temperament that you need to be a stayer, but he’ll go out to grass now and I’ll chat with Mr Ricci over the summer,” added Mullins.
“He’s a big, immature horse with a big frame and could get stronger over the summer. He’s six, and could improve again. I just hope he stays so everybody can get to enjoy him.”
Though clearly taken by his mount’s brilliance, Walsh was quick to point out it’s not what he has achieved thus far but what he does next which will define him.
“He could be the best I’ve ever ridden, but you ride lots of top-class novices, and now it’s about the next step,” said the rider, after picking up his second grade one of the meeting.
“He is a very accurate jumper - at the last fence you wouldn’t even notice him getting off the ground. I suppose, like other good two-milers I’ve ridden, he doesn’t arch his back – his front-end lifts and his back-end stays very level. He is a dream to ride and a wonderful horse.
“But it’s like Faugheen stepping up to be Champion Hurdler, and Annie Power doing likewise - it’s all about the next step now. Taking on the big boys is that step.”
Walsh, who has been associated with many of the top chasers of our generation, perhaps most notably the remarkably versatile Kauto Star, holds similar beliefs to Mullins in the horse’s ability to step up in trip.
“When you’re going along with him, he gives you the feeling he could go along for another mile,” he added. “I’ve only asked him to pick up from the back of the last at Leopardstown and the back of the last at Navan, over the second-last at Cheltenham and over the last here.
“We’ve never set him alight with six to run to see what’s there. We’re only ever doing enough to win the races with him. You’d be hoping in your own head that if you only do enough to win the races, you would make the horses last longer. Win doing as little as possible, and keep winning.
“I suppose you have to look at every horse and weigh-up your options as a team. Part of a team is trying to win as many races as you can, so you look at what you have. You look at Vautour and at Djakadam and think Douvan has to take them on. And Un De Sceaux as well.”
What wonderful thoughts to whet the appetite for the 2016/17 season.
Here’s a little extra sport. Watch the latest BallTalk for the best sports chat and analysis: An alternative Premier League team of the season
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved