Mullins stays on gold trail
Willie Mullins may be taking almost all before him most weekends lately but the Cheltenham Gold Cup only comes around once a year and the champion trainer is building a formidable team for the famous race that has so far eluded him.
If a week is a long time in politics, the 14 weeks from now until the Cheltenham Festival can be life-changing in horseracing.
As it stands, two different horses trained by Willie Mullins are favourite for the Gold Cup with different bookmaking firms and a third is vying for that position as a definite second favourite in the market following another good weekend for Closutton.
Last month's Ascot winner, Vautour, is favourite with some bookmakers. Don Poli who, despite a tack malfunction, made a winning return to action at Aintree on Saturday, is favourite with others.
But yesterday, it was last season's Gold Cup runner-up who put forward his claims and in an authoritative manner too as he won the Grade One John Durkan by 12 lengths.
Boylesports, who have Don Poli as their clear 4/1 favourite for the Gold Cup, cut Djakadam from 10/1 into 8/1 to go one better than he did last season when coming up against the special novice Coneygree, who is also favourite with some firms, proving just how wide open this year's staying chase division is at this juncture.
We've seen the last of the potential Gold Cup candidates until Christmas now but with Mullins also having Sir Des Champs in his locker, he wasn't very committal on future plans for Djakadam.
"I'm not sure where he will go, we'll just take a look at everything," Mullins said afterwards about the six-year-old who, despite being well backed yesterday, was a doubt for the race in midweek.
The trainer revealed: "I wasn't happy with him during the week and was nearly not going to run but to run like that after the way he was, I'm absolutely delighted with him.
"He just wasn't right but as Punchestown is our home track I could leave the decision until this morning. If the race was run in England it wouldn't have been as easy and I would have had to make a decision during the week. It was some performance considering everything."
Mullins isn't one to run novices in open company. But such is the regard he has for Pont Alexandre that he suggested yesterday: "He would have the class to be a Coneygree" referring to last season's Gold Cup-winning novice.
But that wasn't a statement of intent and he will be kept to novice company for the season, with the trainer stating his primary concern will be to keep the extremely talented seven-year-old in one piece.
The eight-year-and-a-half length winner of yesterday's beginners' chase was winning at the expense of the highly regarded Balbir Du Mathan and after 999 days off the track but the manner of victory was most impressive.
Chasing home The New One in the 2013 Neptune Novices' Hurdle was the last time we saw Pont Alexandre is public. Yesterday's chasing bow was only his fourth ever outing on a racecourse and it was almost faultless. His rider Ruby Walsh described him as a horse with "unbelievable potential".
Mullins said: "He's had his troubles and hopefully we can just keep him together. I don't know if he will run at Christmas, it depends on how he comes out of this. The whole thing now is to keep him right."
A Mullins treble at Punchestown yesterday was instigated by Yorkhill, who cruised to an easy win in the maiden hurdle and is now 12/1 for the Neptune and 14/1 for the Albert Bartlett with Boylesports.
Denis Cullen isn't thinking quite as far ahead with A Great View but is naturally excited about the two-time winner, who won yesterday's opener for JP McManus.
"He's only four and should do well with time. We'll tip away quietly and he's a nice horse to have in the yard. He needs to step up again but we'll take small steps at the moment and see where that takes us," said the most local trainer to the track.
Meanwhile, following Special Tiara's second at the expense of Sire De Grugy in the Tingle Creek at Sandown, trainer Henry de Bromhead will consider appealing the result of the stewards' enquiry that followed.
The runner-up was badly hampered by the winner in mid-air at the final fence and speaking at Punchestown yesterday de Bromhead said: "Special Tiara was stopped in his tracks at the last and lost all momentum.
"The other horse jumped right across him and I think if we had a clear run at the last fence, we would have been in front."