The Winter months are always filled with excitement with one eye on the upcoming big weekend races and the anticipation of looking ahead to the major Spring Festivals. But there is another question that always starts along with the winter air which doesn’t stop until late April, and that is “where will Willie Mullins send his big guns, and when will he decide?”.
The build up to this years Tingle Creek has already seen drama. Douvan, with the world of jumps racing at his feet, has seen his price tumble from 5/1 into 4/7, then back out to 11/8 in the space of a few hours. Plenty have had their say on this subject so this article’s aim is not to discuss this in more detail, rather to look ahead to a race that is always filled with drama and is one of the key weekends in the National Hunt season.
Douvan – A surefire thing?Ran over 2m at the iconic track in Esher, a horse is always tested by their ability to be able to jump efficiently at speed, as the railway fences over the back straight can make even the most fluent jumper have their bottle tested. Any sort of jumping deficiencies will be found out at this track and with it suiting a particular type of horse there is no surprise that over the past 19 years, we have only seen 10 different winners. Moscow Flyer, Kauto Star and Master Minded have all won this race twice, and this year we have SIRE DE GRUGY (9/2) attempting to go one better than those and win for the third year. The thing is with this horse, is that people keep writing him off. Even going back to his Queen Mother success in 2014, his SP of 11/4 is in hindsight way too big for a horse that was bang in form and miles better than the rest. He won this race last year from Special Tiara at 100/30, and although he was probably slightly fortunate after jumping into his rival at the last, the price again screamed too big for a horse that is proven at Sandown. This year, yet again, he has been overlooked. He was sent off 8/1 for a handicap off a mark of 160 where he won with the authority that a Grade 1 winning horse should do in a handicap. Write him off at your peril.
Any other hunches?
Gary Moore also saddles the very exciting AR MAD (9/2), who at this meeting last year burst onto the scene with a devastating 10L win in the Henry VIII Chase over 2m, jumping like the railway fences were not even there and laughing back at the likes of Bristol De Mai and As De Mee in the distance behind. He was being talked about as a potential Douvan-beater for the Arkle before injury meant he couldn’t take his chance. The clear positives are that he is back at a track where we know he performs well, and based on last years evidence he is an improver that jumps fences very well indeed. I would also imagine that this had been in Gary Moore’s mind for a long time. But the negatives have to be the 292 day lay off from injury and the huge step up in Grade. This meeting is always one to side with the Moore’s and I just feel like this horse could be top class, especially if he improves again from 5 to 6, which is a very distinct possibility.
GOD’S OWN (8/1) is the only other realistic contender, but realistic is said with a pinch of salt as although he is back to 2m which is a definite positive, he doesn’t look to have the beating of the market principles on winter ground.
So what about Willie?
That brings us to the important issue of Mr. W. Mullins. I believe he is right to enter his horses in the way that he does, simply because he has so many top class animals that could easily take their place at the highest level. His entries of UN DE SCEAUX (11/4) and DOUVAN (11/8) in this race at the time of writing are completely understandable. He is obviously waiting to see how the ground will be closer to the time, and also to see how his superstar is working in the lead up to the race. But from a betting point of view, the facts are this. DOUVAN is 8/11 for the Queen Mother, a race that is over 3 months away. He is 11/8 for a race that is 3 days away where there is no reason in the public knowledge that he won’t take his chance here. The price of 5/1 in the lead up to the race was silly, but doesn’t 11/8 sound like a good price if he does line up and almost certainly has an SP of 4/7?
Well, for those of you who like me don’t like getting involved in bets where there are risks associated and the price doesn’t help justify those risks perhaps the next few days will be a watching brief. But I have no doubt in my mind that this race has been marked as DOUVAN’s first run of the season for months, and quite rightly so as a Queen Mother favourite. He is like a horse we have not seen in quite some years, and I would love nothing more than for this horse to turn up on Saturday and blitz the field, just like he has done on his previous 10 starts for Willie Mullins with an aggregate winning distance of 102 lengths.
But, AR MAD, at the ante post stage, would appeal. He is definitely going to run. He loves Sandown. He is improving. He is an excellent jumper. He should make the running, and the stable love this meeting. If the Douvan bet is too risky, then 9/2 about AR MAD sounds completely reasonable.