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Monday 21 August 2017

Douvan gets Willie Mullins off to a winning start at Cheltenham

Ruby Walsh on Douvan celebrates winning the 13.30 Supreme Novices Hurdle Race
Ruby Walsh on Douvan celebrates winning the 13.30 Supreme Novices Hurdle Race

Douvan gave Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh the perfect start to the four-day Cheltenham Festival when running out a smooth winner of the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Walsh brought the 2-1 favourite to lead before the final flight and Douvan bounded up the hill to score by four and a half lengths.

Mullins was also responsible for runner-up Shaneshill (9-1), with Henry de Bromhead's Sizing John (25-1) giving Ireland a clean sweep by finishing third, another two and a half lengths away.

Some Plan led until after three out, where Sizing John went on but was soon surrounded by the Mullins battalion, led by Douvan.

It was the third successive win in the race for Mullins, Walsh and owner Rich Ricci.

Douvan.jpg
Douvan ridden by Ruby Walsh jump the last on their way to victory in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle on Champion Day

Walsh said: "That's the pressure off. He was very keen and took a good hold of me all the way.

"You'd imagine he'd improve. He's a gorgeous horse and it's brilliant to be here."

Mullins said: "It was good to see him doing what he does at home. If there hadn't been so much at stake Ruby might not have had him off the bridle. He's a horse that has huge ability.

"He was a bit too free and I thought that might have been his undoing. I didn't expect him to be like that. He's very relaxed at home."

Ricci said: "He's raw, he's a big immature thing and he will benefit from a summer.

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"When he matures he's going to be something.

"It's a dream come true, just remarkable."

Ricci added: "We must be very lucky owners. Ruby's a star, Willie's a star, the whole team. It's unbelievable to do that (win this race three years running).

"When he grows up and matures he's going to be something."

Reflecting further on his perfect start, Mullins said: "We have had no time for pressure as we've been so busy making sure everything was right, so it was a mixture of relief and satisfaction.

"Somebody told me we had five of the seven favourites on the first day, which was a bit of a shock to the system, but this makes the week a little easier.

"Shaneshill was fantastic also. He's not had a straightforward season, so while I wouldn't say there was definite improvement in him, you would have to think we could have him a little sharper.

"They will both go to Punchestown, and as for next year, I will reserve judgement on what they will be doing!

"He (Douvan) looks like a chaser already but if he was an Irish-bred, you would probably only be thinking about running him in a point to point or a bumper.

"I got sick of reading what I was saying about him, but at least he's gone and done it.

"We have had no setbacks at all in the run up to the Festival and that took the pressure off greatly."

De Bromhead was delighted with the effort of Sizing John and he could also head to the Punchestown Festival.

He said: "I am delighted with that run as he is a chaser in the making. Coming around the last bend I thought he might do it, but he just got tired going up the hill. He ran a blinder, though.

"I would say he would go to Punchestown as that was only his fourth run of the season. We will then leave him off and go chasing next year."

Nicky Henderson felt fourth-placed L'Ami Serge had failed to land a telling blow.

He said: "L'Ami Serge never got into the race and was never travelling. He finished well enough, though, which is always encouraging."

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