Willie Mullins is in bullish mood as Douvan bids to get the Cheltenham Festival off to a perfect start for the Irish in today’s Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
The normally cautious Mullins has been unable to hide his excitement about a performer he hails “as nice a horse as we’ve had ever going to Cheltenham”, some praise from a man who is the Festival’s winning-most Irish trainer of all time with 33 victories ahead of the latest instalment.
The five-year-old has been mightily impressive since being snapped up from France, slamming subsequent Grade One winner Sizing John on his Irish bow at Gowran Park before treating his rivals with contempt in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown, a race landed last year by Supreme-winning stablemate Vautour.
Mullins said: “Douvan looks the part. He does everything so naturally at home and on the racecourse when we have run him, so fingers crossed he can do it in Cheltenham as well.
“I think the track will suit and coming up that hill is what he wants. His jumping is good enough and Ruby (Walsh) is very happy with him.
“He’s surprised me as he’s a big angular horse and looks immature and you’d think he’d want another season under his belt, but he does everything so easily. We were happy with what he did in Punchestown and it is just a matter of keeping him there.
“I think he jumps well enough, he has enough stamina and I think he’s got everything we need.
“Everything we ask him to do he does. There’s no half measures. He just comes up the gallop every time we ask him to do a bit of work.
“The race in Gowran was a real good novice hurdle. If you went before and offered a lot of money for any of the runners the owners wouldn’t have taken it and he just demolished them.
“We took on a nice field of horses in Punchestown and he did easily again, much easier than Vautour did it last year.
“Vautour looked the finished article last year. He was big and strong with muscles coming out everywhere.
“This fellow is more like a long-distance runner than a sprinter. That’s why I think there’s huge potential in him.
“He’s got the physique and stature of a chaser.”
Douvan is the first of many bullets fired by Mullins’ powerhouse owner Rich Ricci, who is bidding for a third successive victory in the Festival curtain-raiser following the triumphs of Champagne Fever and Vautour.
“We’ve been very fortunate to win the Supreme the last two years, which is extraordinary. It’s a huge relief when you win that first race of the meeting,” said Ricci.
“He’s in very good form and I can’t remember the last time Willie was this positive. It was probably when Pont Alexandre got stuffed by The New One!
“I think we’ll keep our feet on the ground. He’s a silly price. That being said, I can’t believe how positive the reports are from home, he did a piece of work that was very good and it’s all systems go. He’ll go on any ground and we go there with confidence, but also recognising it’s a very tough race.”
Walsh is in similarly confident mood.
He said in his Paddy Power blog: “Willie says he’s as nice a horse as he’s sent to Cheltenham and I hope he’s right. He’s definitely a faster horse than last year’s winner Vautour, but you also have to stay to win this race. Douvan certainly has the speed to win a Supreme, but there may be stronger stayers in the field – but I wouldn’t swap him for any of them.
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