PAT KEANE: Here's why Douvan should be aimed at the Gold Cup

If Willie Mullins sticks to the tried and trusted system that has served him so well there’s no doubt Douvan will head for the two-mile Champion Chase at Cheltenham, with a possible tilt at the Gold Cup put back to 2018.

In the aftermath of Douvan’s smooth return to action at Cork last Sunday, Mullins indicated that the horse would not be heading to Kempton for the King George at Christmas and the plan, at least for the moment, was to stay at two miles.

Owner Rich Ricci was singing off the same hymn sheet in an interview with At The Races. It will be disappointing if Douvan continues on a similiar pattern, basically beating horses over the minimum trip that simply aren’t in his league.

There is no countenancing defeat for Douvan in the Champion Chase, assuming he gets there in the first place and is granted normal luck on the day.

This week he was on offer at between 8-13 and 4-9, for a race that doesn’t take place until March 15.

That illustrates how brilliant Douvan is over two-miles and how weak a division this is.

He’ll enjoy another lap of honour at Leopardstown at Christmas and then might have a run in the new year, before heading to Cheltenham, where he is likely to be as short as 1-4.

It is all entirely predictable; Douvan will be hailed universally, while winning a bucket of money along the way.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with such a plan, but it could be much more exciting.

Douvan has run 13 times in his life, winning 12 times. He is 11 from 11 for Mullins, four over flights and seven over fences.

He was beaten on his debut at Saint-malo in France on May 13, 2014, finishing five lengths second behind a horse called Konig Dax.

Konig Dax has run just twice since, starting off at Catterick when 11th of 13, trained by Donald McCain, and was in the care of David Pipe next time.

That was back in March at Taunton, when, off a modest mark of 118, he looked beaten when falling at the third last in a handicap hurdle.

Whoever pointed Mullins in the direction of Douvan, rather than Konig Max, may well be bordering on genius, or else has the amazing ability of being able to see into the future!

Since arriving in Ireland, Douvan has been a revelation and has done everything asked of him by Mullins, including scoring twice at the Cheltenham Festival.

But I would contend that we remain seriously in the dark as to how good he actually is.

Look back at all 11 races he has run for Mullins and tell me a really good horse he has ever beaten. You’ll struggle to find one. Essentially, he does the same thing over and over again.

For instance, six times Sizing John has finished behind him, while he has beaten The Game Changer four times.

As long as Douvan — he has never raced beyond two miles and a furlong — stays within his comfort zone we will not be any the wiser.

I mean he has never run against Thistlecrack, Cue Card, Coneygree, Djakadam, Don Cossack, Valseur Lido, Un De Sceaux, Vroum Vroum Mag, God’s Own Ar Mad, Sire De Grugy, the list goes on and on.

I know it is unrealistic to expect a horse just out of novice class to have done so anyway, but I make the point to emphasis the moderate enough opposition Douvan has taken on so far.

There is no guarantee he will stay three miles, not to mind three and a quarter around Cheltenham, but where’s the fun in not finding out?

Ricci, who has poured millions into the game, must have a burning desire to win the Gold Cup, while Mullins has yet to win the race, but saddled the runner-up six times.

You can land as many Champion Chases and Champion Hurdles as you like, but they are not anywhere near the level of the Gold Cup, the greatest prize in National Hunt racing.

The Tizzards have wasted no time aiming the very inexperienced Thistlecrack — admittedly he is two years older than Douvan — solidly in that direction.

They have clearly reasoned there is no guarantee Thistlecrack will be injury-free a year later.

And that is very much a concern when it comes to the training of National Hunt horses, you simply do not know when disaster is likely to strike.

Mullins’ Vautour is a case in point.

He ducked out of the Gold Cup challenge in March and won the Ryanair Chase instead.

That was a perfectly understandable decision then, because of Vautour’s poor homework on the lead-in to the festival.

The problem, of course, is that Vautour has since died while out in the field and we will never know if he was good enough to win the Gold Cup.

In March, Douvan will be a seven-year-old and the contest is littered with horses who have won at that age, including Kauto Star, Imperial Call, War Of Attrition, Best Mate and Kicking King. Long Run was only six when he scored in 2011.

Coneygree took the Gold Cup as a novice in 2015 and then couldn’t run this year due to injury.

He who hesitates is lost. Go for it Willie.


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