Douvan is the one to watch for festival-goers
It is D-Day at Cheltenham on Wednesday: Douvan Day.
Douvan is a monster whose weaknesses – insofar as they must exit – are not apparent. He has run in 13 races now since he has joined Willie Mullins, and he has won all 13 of them, four of them over hurdles, nine of them over fences. And it has never looked likely that he wouldn’t win.
He has won eight Grade 1 races, including a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and an Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham. So he has raced at the Cheltenham Festival twice, and he has danced in twice. He was superior to his peers as a novice hurdler two years ago, he was superior to his peers last year as a novice chaser, and it looks like he has the measure of all the other top two-mile chasers this season.
All things being equal, Willie Mullins’ horse should win the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday. He deserves to win it too.
His biggest danger? Maybe Special Tiara. Henry de Bromhead’s horse is a high-class chaser, he was third in the Champion Chase last year, beaten a nostril by Un De Sceaux for second and just three and a half lengths behind Sprinter Sacre. That is top class form. He goes well at Cheltenham and he bounces off good ground.
Maybe Fox Norton. Third behind Douvan in the Arkle last year, Colin Tizzard’s horse has progressed this season, winning a handicap and then a Grade 2 contest at Cheltenham in November before injury ruled out a campaign that would have taken him through the depths of winter.
He returned after a short break to finish second behind Tuesday’s Arkle winner Altior in the Game Spirit Chase at Newbury last month. That should have put him spot on for Wednesday’s race.
In truth, however, this is a race for watching and for appreciating Douvan.
The day gets under way with the Grade 1 Neptune Hurdle, a race that has been won in the past by such luminaries as Hardy Eustace, Faugheen, Danoli and the great Istabraq.
Neon Wolf has been all the talk for this year’s renewal for a while, and the Harry Fry-trained gelding has been impressive in winning his two hurdle races to date. However, he is short. He is no better than 2-1.
Bacardys is interesting. Willie Mullins’ horse stayed on really well last time over two and a quarter miles to land the Grade 1 Deloitte Hurdle at Leopardstown last month. Third in last year’s Champion Bumper at Cheltenham and winner of the Aintree bumper, he is strong on stamina and this step up to two miles and five furlongs could bring about further improvement.
However, Shattered Love is even more interesting at a much bigger price. The Gigginstown House mare has won three of her five hurdle race, including her last two. Her main rival fell at the final flight at Fairyhouse last time, but she is a mare who finds lots for pressure and she might still have gone close even if Asthuria had jumped the final flight well.
That was over two and a quarter miles, the step up to two miles and five furlongs should bring about further improvement and, as the only mare in the race, she receives 7lbs from all her rivals. And her trainer Gordon Elliott had a day of days on Tuesday with three winners.