The Willie Mullins trained Douvan was the star performer at Punchestown on Saturday, when he cruised to success in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle, a race won last year by stablemate Vautour.
It would be easy to question the substance of his victory. The second home Alpha Des Obeaux, though a horse with huge potential, was nevertheless beaten over three miles on his previous start, and third home Marinero, a son of Presenting is surely a stayer in the making. But it was the style of victory that had onlookers purring.
“He did it very well, travelled well and jumped super. They were probably stayers he beat but it was a good performance," said jockey Ruby Walsh. "It's nice to ride horses like that. He was very professional in his jumping and quickened up when he had to. He has a lot of natural ability and hopefully we'll keep him going the right way and get him to Cheltenham in one piece."
His trainer seemed equally satisfied saying: "He did that nicely. He jumped and galloped and did everything that he does at home. He does things very easy. I don't think ground or trip will make any difference to him, and I'd imagine he'll go straight to Cheltenham now."
Douvan certainly looks the part. A powerful scopey horse with a huge stride, he covers the ground effortlessly and appears to be a natural over his obstacles. He is a son of Derby runner-up Walk In The Park, who himself is a son of Montjeu. It’s fair to say that he has not been the most successful of stallions, and Douvan looks to be the most talented of his offspring to date.
His performance clearly impressed the bookies, with all cutting his price for the Supreme at Cheltenham to around 5/2. Of course his trainer is unlikely to commit the horse to a particular race until the very last minute. But chances are that the opener at The Festival will provide a mouth-watering encounter between Douvan and L’Ami Serge. Mullins versus Henderson; Ireland against England; Ricci opposing Munir and Souede would be a fitting curtain raiser to jump racing’s showpiece event.
Tea For Two gave rider Lizzie Kelly and trainer Nick Williams a memorable day at Kempton. He thrashed his opponents in the Ladbroke Hurdle, his fifth win from five starts going right-handed. It was an aggressive ride from Kelly who yet again impressed with her judgement of pace. She pressed on down the back-straight and had most under pressure turning for home. She had a willing partner, who galloped all the way to the line.
His next target is uncertain, but the horse has the build to make a lovely chaser in time. As for jockey Lizzie, yet another high-profile victory certainly pleased her mother. Also part-owner of Tea For Three, Jane Williams told At The Races: “She's a professional. There's no way she would have done a pound over. Hopefully people take notice and she's done enough to get some more rides. She's as tough as they come and is in the gym every day. She's as strong as an ox and I think she can compete with the lads." On this showing both horse and jockey have a bright future.
It proved to be a great weekend for the Skelton brothers, who were successful in the Grade 2 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick. Channel 4’s The Morning Line had visited the stable in the morning and a day to remember was complete when Harry rode Three Musketeers to victory in the afternoon. The five-year-old son of Flemensfirth was making only his third career start.
After the race his trainer Dan Skelton appeared adamant that the horse would not be competing at Cheltenham in March, saying: "We've always rated him because he has everything you look for in a jumper. We’ll take our time and he'll probably not even be entered for Cheltenham because I don't want to be tempted into running there. He's a chaser for next season."
Shantou Bob proved the disappointment of the race finishing ten lengths back in third. Sent off a short priced favourite, he appeared in trouble some way from home. To his credit he battled on but at no point looked likely to win. It’s a slightly worrying spell for trainer Warren Greatrex who has now gone 12 days without a winner. His Warrantor also performed poorly at Kempton.