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Road to Cheltenham: ‘Different Species’ Douvan and Un De Sceaux dazzle

| 25.01.2016

It’s Monday, which can only mean one thing; we are left to discuss the breathtaking performances of some of Willie Mullins’ on-fire stable.

Yes, it may be getting a little repetitive to be fawning over the sheer power the Closutton handler has at his disposal each week, but the Cheltenham Festival looks in real danger of becoming about one man.

And while Annie Power stands in her stable, unseen on the racecourse since last May, Mullins looks to have a new wonder mare on his hands in the shape of Vroum Vroum Mag.

The seven-year-old was taking in arguably her toughest test at Ascot on Saturday in the Warfield Mares’ Hurdle, and was stepping up to a trip just shy of three miles for the first time.

Neither of those things were to have any effect though.

Rounding the home turn Ruby Walsh took his mount wide to sweep past the early leaders on the bridle, and with a quick shake of the reins the race was put to bed.

The powerful mare quickened up well and galloped all the way to the line in a manner to suggest that she will be equally good at staying trips as she is at as short as two miles.

The bookmakers reacted quickly, promoting her to second-favourite for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, cutting her from 8/1 to 3/1 to come out on top at Prestbury Park should she take on the boys for the first time since joining Mullins, while she is 9/4 (from 8/1) for the Mares’ Hurdle.


The raiding party weren’t done there though as Champion Chase favourite Un De Sceaux sparkled again in the Clarence House Chase.

In what was mooted as a head-to-head with 2014 winner of the race Sire De Grugy, last season’s Arkle winner was sent off a hot 1/2 jolly.

Jumping well from the outset, there was little worry that the eight-year-old would take the third tumble in his seven-race chasing career as he put in a customary front-running performance.

He had all four of his rivals hard at work approaching the straight, and showed a smart turn of foot under Walsh after a big leap at the last to go on by five lengths.

The subsequent price cut saw him slashed from 6/4 to 4/5 for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham, while runner-up Sire De Grugy is now a 10/1 chance (from 8s).


Not content with taking the big prizes in the UK, Mullins returned home on Sunday to claim the big ones in his backyard too.

Firstly, Douvan dispatched his two vastly inferior rivals as a 1/14 favourite should in the Irish Arkle, producing a brilliant display around the Leopardstown track.

The fact that Mullins described the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner as “a different species” told you all you needed to know.

The bookmakers agreed, with Ladbrokes cutting him further for an Arkle success (1/2 from 4/7) and going as far as introducing a ‘Without Douvan’ market for the second race of the Festival.


Arguably the most anticipated clash was left until last though, as the Closutton-based trio of Faugheen, Nichols Canyon and Arctic Fire clashed in the Irish Champion Hurdle.

With a number of back-stories running through the plot – the former’s defeat by Nichols Canyon in the Morgiana Hurdle for instance – it was to really sort out their Festival credentials on the out-skirts of Dublin.

Any uncertainty regarding tactics were soon put to bed as Walsh sent Faugheen to the front and got him jumping neatly over his hurdles, for the most part at least.

He never looked in trouble, and even when Nichols Canyon loomed up alongside him approaching the second last, the Champion Hurdle soon pressed on clear.

A rather clumsy jump at the last had no bearing on the result whatsoever as ‘The Machine’ confirmed he was back to his best with an emphatic 15 length success.


Now a very short 1/4 to retain his Festival crown, it could be that a repeat of 2015’s one-two is on the cards with Arctic Fire chasing him home at Leopardstown.

He was shortened from 12/1 to 8/1 to cause an upset at Cheltenham, while the disappointing Nichols Canyon went from 6/1 to 10/1.

After taking eight races at last year’s Festival, it is looking more and more likely that this year’s showpiece at Prestbury Park could be a record breaking one for the Irish Champion Trainer.

Ladbrokes make it a 2/1 chance that he reaches double figures in Gloucestershire, while it is 5/4 that he claims between seven and nine prizes.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.