Will he, won’t he, appeared to be the topic of conversation yesterday, as the inclusion of Douvan in Saturday’s Tingle Creek remained uncertain.
Priced up at 5s earlier in the week by some bookies, prior to a stampede and subsequent shortening to 4/7, Mullins’ outstanding young chaser can now be backed at 6/4 in places.
His regular pilot, Ruby Walsh, had little sympathy for the betting industry when saying in his Paddy Power blog: “Willie Mullins will make a decision on Douvan running in the Tingle Creek Chase at declaration time, but pricing him up at 4/1 or 5/1 was crazy. He’s the odds-on favourite for the Champion Chase, is unbeaten since he joined us in Closutton, and we've never made any secret of how highly we rate him. And the reigning champ Sprinter Sacre was retired a few weeks ago.”
Walsh went on: “Gary Moore's Ar Mad put in a hell of a performance here last year, but hasn't run since February after getting injured, while his stable-mate Sire De Grugy is rising 11 in a month's time. Most of the others are also more exposed. If the bookmakers decided for some reason to price Douvan like he wasn't going to run, that's their problem, not ours. I expect him to run a big race if he takes part, but I also expect Un De Sceaux to do the same if he runs. Don't forget Willie entered both at the initial entry stage and hadn't said anything to contradict that before the bookies' alarm bells started ringing yesterday.”
There’ll be a huge sigh of relief from numerous bookies, should Douvan be pulled, though not from the public, who would love to see the Arkle winner scooting around Sandown. A clash with Moore’s exciting front runner Ar Mad is a mouth-watering prospect. Last year’s impressive Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase winner was two from two at the track, and appeared a better horse going right-handed, before being struck down by injury.
Moore reports him to be ‘as ready as I can get him at home’, adding: “He's a busy horse, so you would think he would get fitter quicker than some of the others.” The Sussex trainer also has last year’s winner Sire De Grugy, primed for another crack on the track he loves. He’ll be looking to win the Tingle Creek for a record equalling third time, and has four wins from his five outings over fences at the Esher racecourse.
Tom George may also be double-handed, with God’s Own and Sir Valentino set to take their chance. The former needs better ground and a right-handed track to be at his best, though his jumping will need to stand up to the Tingle Creek test. The race can quickly get away from you at Sandown, if a round is not error free.
Sir Valentino won the Grade 2 Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter last time, beating Garde La Victoire in a titanic struggle. Though Tom George’s yard remain in outstanding form, it’ll be some training achievement to make this fella competitive in this Grade 1. He was slick at Exeter last time, and goes well on a sounder surface, but is sure to be taken out of his comfort zone at this elite level.
With the declarations for the race confirmed today, we’ll find out just how select the field is, and hopefully the Sandown crowd can look forward to a real treat, in seeing the outstanding talent Douvan, a horse described by Ruby Walsh as having ‘unbelievable natural ability’.