Mullins relief as Douvan delivers
All goes according to plan at Punchestown but Elliott thinks he could take Willie's crown
On a bitterly cold afternoon at Punchestown the red-hot Douvan earned a warm reception from a very healthy crowd as he continued his winning sequence in the BoyleSports Tied Cottage Chase.
Both winning trainer Willie Mullins and winning jockey Ruby Walsh admitted that the odds-on Queen Mother Champion Chase favourite did nothing that we wouldn't have expected him to do as he asserted himself up the straight to beat Realt Mor by six-and-a-half lengths.
As Douvan left the parade ring following the post-race photographs, a clearly delighted Mullins put his hand to his heart and breathed a sigh of relief that the Cheltenham prep run went without any hiccups.
"I'm relieved that's over," was as much as Mullins had to say afterwards and not much more needed to be said, as the seven-year-old remained a 1/3 favourite for the Cheltenham Festival with BoyleSports.
Ruby Walsh was able to give more of an indication on how the horse felt, stating: "I thought Smashing would take us along at a better gallop but he obviously wasn't himself today and once I jumped by him at the first, Douvan just sauntered along and you don't have to do anything, just sit there!"
"I gave him a squeeze going to the second last and he just came up out of my hands and sprinted at the back of it. He's a wonderful horse and it's great to see people coming out to see him."
Punchestown have adopted the tagline 'Where Champions Go' and in Douvan they certainly played host to a champion yesterday but when the crowds return for their Festival meeting in April there could be an element of doubt at the start of the week as to who will be crowned Ireland's champion trainer at the end of the five-day meeting.
Ireland's champion trainer is decided on the last day of the Punchestown Festival and yesterday was the first real admission from Gordon Elliott that he may have a chance of denying Willie Mullins.
Elliott holds a lead of just over €250,000 and after Mick Jazz denied Cilaos Emery in the opening Listed Novice Hurdle at Punchestown yesterday, the Meath-based trainer said: "We were going to run him in the Betfair Hurdle but I just felt that winners in Ireland were more important."
It is a title race that has been an interesting side story to the Irish National Hunt season so far and Elliott is going nowhere. With the best part of three full months to go until the end of the season, it's going to prove a fascinating watch.
Mick Jazz is now likely to go to the County Hurdle for Elliott, while the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival is on the agenda for Ilseofhopendreams, who justified favouritism in the Pertemps Qualifier, with Danny Mullins doing the steering for his uncle, Willie.
Punchestown is a nice place to have your first winner but when you are riding it for Enda Bolger in one of the famous Punchestown Cross Country races, wearing the colours of JP McManus, it is extra special.
That was the case for Donal McInerney who partnered Auvergnat to victory in the PP Hogan Memorial Chase.
Auvergnat is now bound for the Cheltenham Festival, having been unlucky at the English racecourse last weekend when he unseated his rider at the 26th fence. He is now 10/1 with BoyleSports for the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham in March.
Bolger said: "He's (Auvergnat) only a seven-year-old and should have a nice future at this game. He will have to go for the cross-country now at Cheltenham next month.
"He had a look there last week, and it was just unfortunate (unseated and then fell when loose) what happened then."
The Herald's Katie Walsh was among the winners when guiding the gutsy mare Baie De Iles to victory in the Grand National Trial for her husband Ross O'Sullivan.
The grey was fifth in the Welsh National at Chepstow in late December and made all the running to oblige in the marathon three-and-a-half miler yesterday.
"The Eider Chase is a race we'll look at next and the Irish National would be the obvious target but she needs that heavy ground," O'Sullivan stated afterwards.