Things We Learned » Douvan dilemma

Douvan dilemma

You know this dilemma that Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci have? Keep Douvan to hurdles and target the Champion Hurdle with him next year, send him there with the reigning champ Faugheen, keep them apart until Cheltenham, or go chasing?

You can plot the respective courses. You could go the 2014/15 route with Faugheen (well, it worked didn’t it?): Ascot Hurdle, Christmas Hurdle, Cheltenham, Punchestown. You could add something in there between December and March if you wanted, something like the Kingwell Hurdle or the Red Mills Hurdle. On the other hand, if it ain’t broke …

You could go the Irish route with Douvan, the Hurricane Fly route. Morgiana Hurdle, Ryanair Hurdle, Irish Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham, Punchestown. If you wanted, you could dovetail with Arctic Fire’s campaign, or you could plan a different campaign with him that could include the Bula Hurdle or the new Haydock Champion Hurdle Trial or even the Betfair Hurdle, if you were so inclined.

Of course, the obvious alternative is to send Douvan chasing, send him on for the job for which he was bred and bought, target the Arkle.

Douvan looks like a chaser for sure, he is tall, almost 17 hands said Willie on Tuesday. He has a frame into which he still has to grow a little. But he is athletic. He flicked through his hurdles on Tuesday like a greyhound flicks through the brushes that they sometimes put on the track in front of him. He barely broke stride. Watching him race down the far side through binoculars, you weren’t sure that they hadn’t forgotten to put the hurdles back between the wings after the bumper from February’s meeting.

There is another option: keep Douvan over hurdles and send Faugheen over fences. It may not make sense on one level, changing tack with a Champion Hurdle winner (ref: ‘if it ain’t broke’ above) and starting again. It might be up there with Padraig Harrington changing his swing after winning The Open.

But on another level, Faugheen is also made for chasing. Indeed, if you had been betting before Punchestown last year on whether he or Vautour would go over fences, you would have bet odds-on Faugheen, odds-against Vautour. Also, crucially, wouldn’t it be a serious objective, for a man who has achieved most of the things that a National Hunt trainer can achieve, for a man who is pushing bars higher all over the place every day that he makes an entry, to plan for the Gold Cup with a Champion Hurdle winner?

Faugheen won his only point-to-point and he won a Grade 3 hurdle over three miles on heavy ground. He has an unusual profile for a Champion Hurdle winner. He is a Champion Hurdle winner with the profile of a staying chaser.

Faugheen is still only seven. He will be nine by the time the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup rolls around, all going well, and that is still not too old for a Gold Cup horse. He could have two seasons’ worth of experience over fences under his belt by then if the plan was hatched over the next few months.

The Paddy Mullins-trained Dawn Run is still the only horse to win a Champion Hurdle and a Gold Cup. It would be fitting if the mare’s trainer’s son could be the next trainer to achieve the feat.

Fine jesture

Here’s a question. If you want to give a horse every opportunity to jump off with the others at the start, do you tell him to stay away from the others, well behind them and 10 yards to the left, and not regard him when you release the tape, or – given that they are herding animals and all – do you make sure that he is as close to the other horses as possible, behind them if not among them, before you let them go?

And, if it looks like he is proving recalcitrant and reluctant, in a high-profile valuable handicap chase, live on Saturday afternoon terrestrial television, do you let them go regardless or do you wait for a moment and give him a chance? Regardless of whether or not he has travelled over from a different country?

Yeah, thought so.

Roller coaster rider

Just shows you what a roller coaster ride this game can be. At Punchestown on Tuesday, David Mullins rode the well-fancied Astre De La Cour – the horse that he rode to win the conditional jockeys’ handicap hurdle at Aintree – to finish 18th of the 25 runners in the big handicap hurdle. On Wednesday, he rode Oscar Knight in the Martinstown Opportunity Final, and he got brought down at the last flight on the first circuit, suffering a fairly nasty fall.

Then on Thursday before the opener, he was legged up on the Liam Cusack-trained Bog War, a seriously well-backed favourite. A mistake at the final flight when he was dueling with Jonathan Burke on A Sizing Network seemed to end his chance, but he quickly got his horse back on an even keel and drove him forward to get him up by a head.

Mullins is an emerging talent, no question. He was good on Astre De La Cour at Aintree when, as with Bog War, he got his horse up on the line after he had made a mistake at the final flight. He was also good on Wicked Spice in a handicap hurdle at Ayr on Scottish Grand National weekend. Wicked Spice came under pressure going down the back straight final time, but his rider kept trying, kept pushing, kept cajoling, and he got him up on the run-in to win by two lengths.

Mullins was also very good on Marinero in a three-mile handicap hurdle at Aintree on the first day of the Grand National meeting. His saddle slipped before the second last flight, so he kicked his feet out of the irons and rode him rudderless over the second last. He was still there with a real chance going to the last when the horse clipped the top of the hurdle and came down. If he hadn’t fallen, the Tony Martin-trained gelding could have won and, if he had, it would have been acclaimed as one of the rides of the season.

The youngster is one of a seriously talented clutch of young riders in Ireland at present and, as trainer Liz Doyle said on Thursday, his 5lb claim is gold.

Mangan deserves greater opportunity

Speaking of talented young riders, it is strange the way the opportunities for Jane Mangan appear to have decreased. It was in the 2012/13 season that Mangan rode big handicap hurdle winners Beef To The Heels and Roi Du Mee for Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown House, and it was at the Punchestown Festival two years ago that she rode The Liquidator to win the Grade 1 Champion Bumper for David Pipe and Roger Brookhouse.

She had 14 winners from 116 rides in Ireland that season, and she had 18 winners from 113 rides last season. This season, she has had just three winners from 66 rides.

On Tuesday at Punchestown, she rode 25/1 shot Policy Breach to finish second in the Land Rover Bumper. On Wednesday she gave 33/1 shot Timing’Severything a cracking ride to land the JLT bumper. The fact that she got the call-up to ride the shortest-priced Willie Mullins horse in the Champion Bumper on Wednesday tells you that the champion trainer appreciates her talent. Of course, it is a competitive arena out there, but Mangan’s is a talent that is deserving of greater opportunity.

Quiz time again

Q. What did these Punchestown winners have in common? Some Article, Jacksonslady, Valseur Lido, Don Cossack. Add Killultagh Vic and Felix Yonger and Avant Tout and Whiteout and Blood Cotil if you like.

The obvious answer to the puzzle is not always the correct answer. If the white or blue or green and gold quartered cap fits …

© The Irish Field, 2nd May 2015