Monday 24 October 2016

Can we expect another upset?

Faugheen's reversal last week puts spotlight on Vautour at Ascot and Douvan in Navan

Vautour ridden by Ruby Walsh wins at Cheltenham last March
Vautour ridden by Ruby Walsh wins at Cheltenham last March

For jump racing fans, there is hardly a more exciting time of year as week by week and day by day the horses we expect to dominate the major Grade One races and spring festivals emerge from their summer hiatus. There's plenty to look forward to this weekend again.

At Ascot today, Vautour is the star attraction and, in truth, despite the Grade One at Haydock an hour later, he is the big draw of the weekend.

Just like Faugheen last weekend, whose defeat stunned the masses, the nature of the sport means that there will be more shocks this weekend but where and when? Will they be quite as big as Faugheen's reversal remains to be seen.

Eight years into the privilege of having this job and talking to trainers and jockeys in the immediate aftermath of races, the one that really sticks out in the mind is Ruby Walsh after Vautour won the JLT Novice Chase at Cheltenham last season.

A 15-length annihilation of Apache Stronghold was one of the performances of the meeting and while David Casey was apparently predicting something along the lines of what we got, Walsh was afterwards mentioning Vautour in the same breath as Kauto Star.

It's easy to see why he's looking forward to his return at Ascot today.

"He's a horse we've always thought a hell of a lot of. I love him. I just think he has so much natural ability and he's so straightforward," said Walsh.

"I didn't quite expect him to be as good as he was (at Cheltenham), but he was magnificent, I thought.

"It was a good race and what he did from three out was spectacular."

Walsh has plenty to look forward to this season, probably more than every other jockey, but he'll be taking nothing for granted despite the fact that Vautour is likely to be around the 1/3 mark and Douvan, the pick of his rides at Navan tomorrow, was yesterday installed at 1/7.

Mullins, Walsh and Rich Ricci will look to win the same beginners chase for a third year in a row at the Meath track as it was also the race won by Vautour last year and Ballycasey previous to that.

Tony Martin's 137-rated hurdler Blair Perrone is the closest of the 13 rivals on hurdle ratings to Douvan but he was 15-and-a-half lengths off him when they met at Punchestown in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle back in April.

If they both get around, there's nothing to suggest an upset.

The beginners chase at Gowran Park is a race that was won by Mullins' Don Poli 12 months ago and today Roi Des Francs.

The Gigginstown-owned six-year-old would be the stable star of many yards in the country but such is the depth of talent at Closutton that he doesn't appear - again going on hurdle form - as one who would make the A-team down there, and it would appear that Noel Meade's Monksland is the pick of that card.


The eight-year-old has had his setbacks, but he reached a high of 157 in the staying hurdle division and made an encouraging comeback over hurdles behind Champion Hurdle runner-up Arctic Fire earlier in the month.

It's another massive opportunity for the in-form jockey Sean Flanagan, who is deputising for the injured Paul Carberry, and it'll be interesting to see how Monksland can fare on his chase debut.

Meade admitted it wasn't a given to send him chasing.

"We ummed and ahhed whether we would or we wouldn't and in the end we just felt some of the younger horses might have too much pace for him in the better races over hurdles, so we decided to give it a go.

"He ran in a point-to-point, so he has some experience jumping and he seems in good form."

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