Douvan deserves Arkle hype

Douvan deserves Arkle hype

Ranking the Willie Mullins hoards that are bound for Prestbury Park on the second week of March is not an enviable task. Having broken the record for the most festival winners in a single year last time around, Mullins looks destined to descend on the Cotswolds with even more firepower this time around.

His potential domination of day one deserves its place as a sporting phenomenon.

Some will cry that one man's stranglehold on the ante-post betting markets lessens the appeal but that is surely to miss the point.

We are living in a Mullins-shaped golden-era. Whereas eight years ago Paul Nicholls was master of all that he surveyed, this is now Mullins' time.

That owner Rich Ricci is bankrolling much of the talent at his disposal detracts not a jot. Mullins' team are routinely finding, training and bringing to the fore some unbelievably talented racehorses.

Ranking may seem futile, but it could come to pass that Douvan enhances his reputation as a genuine Rolls Royce come the Arkle.

Unbeaten in eight career starts, the closest anything has ever come was the three-and-a-half-length defeat Alpha Des Obeaux suffered in the Moscow Flyer at Leopardstown in January last year.

Douvan ran his rivals ragged in the Supreme Novices' a year ago and has taken to fencing in fairly effortless fashion. Will he follow in the footsteps of the likes of Sprinter Sacre and Un De Sceaux in recent seasons by justifying the hype in the Arkle?

Amongst those seeking to pose questions of Douvan will be the British-trained duo of Ar Mad and Vaniteux.

Ar Mad has been full of promise for trainer Gary Moore this season. His peak performance to date was delivered at Sandown in December when he sauntered to victory in the Grade One Henry VIII Novices' Chase.

He set a decent pace that afternoon but most impressive was the manner in which Joshua Moore was able to give him a breather mid-race before galloping away relentlessly from Bristol De Mai, the Nigel Twiston-Davies runner that would go on to rack up a hat-trick, culminating in his own Grade One via the Scilly Isles at Kempton.

Moore has his doubts about whether or not the Arkle is the right race for him but on the back of success at Plumpton in February, he looks tailor-made and has the speed to really test Douvan.

By association, Nicky Henderson's Vaniteux is also worthy of note. A neck separated Vaniteux and Ar Mad at Kempton over Christmas after a real ding-dong battle in the The Wayward Lad.

Both horses showed a willingness to fight all the way to the line that should serve them well come festival time. Henderson's primary hope for the Arkle had appeared to be L'Ami Serge for much of the season but he blotted his copybook in the Kingmaker at Warwick and the Seven Barrows handler now faces some soul searching before granting him a run in this contest.

Henry De Bromhead took this race with festival favourite Sixing Europe in 2010 and the Waterford-based trainer appears quietly confident that Sizing John could have a say this time around.

Third behind Douvan last March in the Supreme, the gut feeling has always been that chasing would be his game and, although he was no match for that same rival on soft ground at Leopardstown over Christmas, spring ground could see him closing the gap on Mullins' star turn.

The Arkle promises to be a thrilling contest. The presence of Ar Mad really could serve it up to Douvan, affording him the chance to prove the genuine depth of his ability if he does.

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Cheltenham Countdown

The countdown to the 2016 Cheltenham Festival is on and we’ll be posting big-race previews every week as we build up to the biggest four days in the National Hunt calendar.

Ante-post markets for the Cheltenham Festival are dominated by Willie Mullins-trained runners and the first of the four-day bonanza looks set to be dominated by the Closutton handler, who saddles no less than four red-hot favourites.

Min, Douvan, Faugheen and Annie Power (or Vroum Vroum Mag) could all have the bookies running for cover and the Mullins’ machine can inflict further damage on the layers when Un De Sceaux lines up for the Queen Mother Champion Chase the following day.

Mullins looks likely to launch a three-pronged attack on Friday’s Gold Cup with Djakadam, Don Poli and Vautour all major players for the showpiece event.