Willie Mullins is considering next month’s John Durkan Memorial Chase as a starting point for his exciting prospect Sir Des Champs.
The Gigginstown House Stud-owned six-year-old is ante-post favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup after going through his novice season unbeaten, winning at the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals in the spring.
However, his Gold Cup credentials would be given an early test if Mullins opted to go to Punchestown on December 9 as the hugely talented Flemenstar is heading in that direction too, after making a winning return in Sunday’s Fortria Chase.
“I imagine we are gearing this year towards the Gold Cup. He’ll probably start off in the John Durkan and he’s entered in the King George, but he’ll be entered in Leopardstown (the Lexus Chase) at Christmas, too,” said Mullins.
The champion trainer believes Sir Des Champs’ biggest asset heading into this season is that he is so settled, something that can prove crucial in long-distance chases. “He’s a lovely big horse, he’s built to carry 12 stones over three miles, which is ideally what you want in a chaser,” Mullins told At The Races.
“I think the key to him is that he’s so relaxed. I’ve never seen him at full strength or full speed, he just does what he has to do. That’s just the way he is I think. “We’ll just plot a course as it comes between now and March. There are various races we can go for, but we’ll see how he gets through his first race and then plan the second one.
“I don’t like having a map the whole way out, we’ll take each day as it comes, because you don’t know what’s going to happen from one day to the next. “You might have to change plans, the horse might get sick, he might get lame, all sorts of things can happen, which is why I prefer to take it one race at a time.”
Fly heads seven in Morgiana
Seven possible runners remain in todays Dobbins & Madigans @ Punchestown Morgiana Hurdle, and it looks likely to be a high-class renewal. The star name is Willie Mullins’ 2011 Champion Hurdle winner Hurricane Fly, who lost his title at Cheltenham in March.
Hurricane Fly did go some way to redeeming his reputation at Punchestown, beating his stablemate Zaidpour, who could once again be in opposition. Mullins could also run Blackstairmountain. Go Native could prove to be Hurricane Fly’s toughest foe, having returned from almost two years off seemingly as good as ever.
Noel Meade has used all his skill to nurse the nine-year-old back to the track and he showed a blistering turn of foot to win a Flat race last month. Meade has, however, taken out Monksland. Dermot Weld’s mare Unaccompanied could return to hurdles having run on the Flat recently, while Eddie Harty’s Captain Cee Bee, who showed his engine remains intact when beating Rebel Fitz at Tipperary, is also in the mix. Edward O’Grady’s Staying Article is another interesting runner, having finished third in a valuable handicap on just his third start over timber last season.
Baily back for more at Punchestown
Mouse Morris has entered his prolific winner Baily Green in the AGK Displays Craddockstown Novice Chase at Punchestown today. The six-year-old has won seven races in a row, including one success over hurdles, and though Morris had intended to give him a break, his amazing constitution means he remains on the go.
However, he is likely to face his toughest task since his winning streak started in May as Jessie Harrington has entered her two smart novices, Oscars Well and Jenari. Henry de Bromhead’s Buckers Bridge also looks a smart prospect, and his stablemate Darwins Fox may also run. Dylan Ross and Twinlight make up the list.
Willie Mullins’ Back In Focus may reappear in the Florida Pearl Novice Chase after his sparkling debut over the bigger obstacles at Listowel in September. His stiffest test may come from Dessie Hughes’ Lyreen Legend, also a winner on his chasing bow. Mullins’ Champagne Fever, winner of the major bumpers at the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals in the spring, has been entered in a maiden hurdle on the same card.
Sacre set for Sunday comeback
Brilliant young chaser Sprinter Sacre heads eight entries for the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham today after the race was reopened. The Nicky Henderson-trained six-year-old is set to have his first run outside novice company on his return to action in the two-mile contest. Sprinter Sacre went through his first campaign over fences in impeccable fashion with five straight wins, including in the Arkle Trophy at the Festival in March.
He will have to give weight to all his rivals, with the Philip Hobbs-trained Wishfull Thinking perhaps his most high-profile possible opponent. Doeslessthanme is the sole entry for champion trainer Paul Nicholls, while Irish hopes rest with Oliver Brady’s Imperial Shabra. The eight are completed by Lancetto, Falcon Island, Finch Flyer and Kinkeel.
Griffin considers Maggio plans
Trainer Pat Griffin will make a decision later in the week on whether Maggio will contest the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham this afternoon. The seven-year-old won at Kelso on Saturday and is now back in Ireland, and Griffin is wondering whether it may be asking too much to go back over to England so soon. Maggio has his quirks, which is why he has not run at home since May 2011, but he certainly has an engine, as he showed when hacking up by 18 lengths at the Borders track last weekend. “We’ve given him the option, so we’ll just see. He’s out in the paddock at the moment, recovering,” said Griffin.
“It might just be asking a bit much having two trips over in a week. “We run him over there because he can plant himself at the start at home, but over there the assistant starter can walk behind him and that sets him off. You can’t do that here. “My son James rides him out all the time and he’s altered his mind, got him settled. He’ll know if he’s in good enough shape to go.
“Since his attitude has changed he’s become a different horse. They think a lot of the horse that was second on Saturday (Green Flag), we were told he was a machine, and James Reveley couldn’t believe he was 18 lengths clear.
“He’s got an engine and he can jump a fence, too.
“His owner (Mike Deren) had a major operation last year and his wins have helped Mike massively. Mike wants to run him in France eventually and there are plenty of races we can aim for, so we won’t disappoint him.”
Geraghty strikes on Jetson
Barry Geraghty went to Downpatrick for one ride and it paid off as Jetson got off the mark over fences at the third attempt in the Autumn Beginners Chase. Jessie Harrington’s seven-year-old was sent off the 8-11 favourite after being placed in his other two runs over the bigger obstacles, and he won well enough in the end after Dont Back Down fell three out when close up.
Jetson made an error at the fourth-last, but he was in control after the final fence and Geraghty rousted him along to beat outsider Royal Sam by four and a half lengths. The jockey said: “He did it well and he jumped nicely enough. He just missed the fourth-last. He did as much as he had to do. We were worried about the ground, but he handled it. He’s a horse that can still go places on good ground.”
Henry de Bromhead’s Sizing Jo’burg made a winning debut over obstacles when getting the better of Willie Mullins’ disappointing French import Sarabad in the Northern Ireland Maiden Hurdle. Sarabad, beaten favourite in his two Irish runs last season, was sent off the 2-1 market leader and led for most of the way, but found little when tackled by Andrew Lynch on Sizing Jo’burg (9-4), who won by nine and a half lengths.
The Mullins team bounced back in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden Hurdle when Inish Island (9-4), running for the yard for the first time, led on the run to the final flight under Paul Townend and held favourite Torn Asunder by three and three-quarter lengths. The James Lambe-trained Yachvili (10-1) collared Rudigreen close home to take the Mobile Handicap Hurdle by half a length in the hands of Liam McKenna, who was recording his first victory.
Cossack set for Navan return
Don Cossack will make his hurdling debut at Navan on Sunday week. One of the most exciting young prospects in Ireland, the five-year-old won three out of his four bumpers in the manner of a very smart horse. He was last seen at Fairyhouse in April, when he bolted up by 17 lengths. Trained by Gordon Elliott, he has been given an entry in the Grade One Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse on December 2. “Don Cossack will go to Navan for his first run over hurdles on Sunday week,” said Elliott.
“You can imagine that we’re all really looking forward to it.”