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Mullins monsters warm-up for Cheltenham Festival in style

David Metcalf | January 25, 2016

Top Irish trainer Willie Mullins dominated the weekend’s horse racing, saddling Un De Sceaux and Vroum Vroum Mag to land the feature races at Ascot and Douvan and Faugheen to capture Grade 1 contests at Leopardstown.

Coral have now opened a number of non-runner money back markets for the key races at the Cheltenham Festival; the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase, World Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Mullins is now odds-on 10/11 favourite to sweep the National Hunt trainers’ title over here in the UK this season, with many expecting him to dominate in the winners’ enclosure when it comes to Prestbury Park showpiece in March.

Faugheen simply sensational in Irish Champion Hurdle

Faugheen

Faugheen put in a scintillating front running performance to land the Irish Champion Hurdle in facile fashion and Coral cut him to 2/5 favourite (from 4/7) for the English equivalent at the Festival around Prestbury Park on Tuesday, March 15th

The eight-year-old gave Mullins his sixth consecutive victory in the race with arguably the best performance of his career.

Faugheen cruised along in the hands of an ultra-confident Ruby Walsh and, when stablemate Nichols Canyon made a mistake at the second last when trying to mount a challenge, the race was over.

Unlike Nichols Canyon, the 30/100 favourite put in a lightening fast jump two from home before stretching effortlessly clear to beat his other stable companion Arctic Fire by 15 lengths.

It was a performance of immense power, and there is little doubt that Faugheen is going to be very hard to beat at the Festival if turning up in the same form.

The only question mark is whether he will be as effective if something can take him on in the early stages, as it was clear in the Irish Champion that jockey Paul Townend had been told not to get into a battle with Faugheen on Nichols Canyon, who has shown all his best form when attacking from the front.

Douvan dazzles in Irish Arkle romp

Douvan

Douvan maintained his unbeaten record with a facile success over two vastly inferior opponents in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase and is now 8/15 for a second Cheltenham Festival success.

Sent off at odds of 1/14, last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle hero ran his rivals ragged and put in a superb round of electric jumping to pull effortlessly clear and beat Velvet Maker by 15 lengths.

Having been available at 4/6 for the English equivalent at the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday, March 15th, Douvan was cut to 4/7 immediately after the race but the money continued to come for the six-year-old and he is now a rock solid 8/15.

Mullins described Douvan as “a different species” after a victory which left him in awe. He said: “I thought he jumped fantastic. He hurdles his fences, really, and they are no effort to him. For his size he knows where his feet are. He’s not awkward.

“His temperament is half the battle with him. He’s so docile which means you can put him anywhere in a race when the time comes. He doesn’t have to make the running.

“You are seeing now what he shows me every day at home. It’s as if he’s just a different species. The way he jumps I don’t think we need to go beyond two miles at the moment, but we have never had any worry about his ability to stay. We don’t know how good he is. He could be anything.”

Un De Sceaux looks all class in Clarence House

Ascot

Un De Sceaux got back on track when making all to win the Clarence House Chase at Ascot by five lengths, and is now 4/6 favourite (from 6/4) for the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday, March 16th.

A faller on return to action at Leopardstown, the six-year-old showed no ill effects of that tumble when jumping really well throughout and surging clear after the last to win with plenty in hand.

It was hard not to be impressed by the manner of the success, and Un De Sceaux is now unbeaten in the 14 races he has completed.

However, Sire De Grugy may not have been beaten as far had he not tried to go with Un De Sceaux and Gary Moore’s star finished just a short-head in front of stable companion Traffic Fluide who had been rated just 154 going into the contest.

That puts a doubt in my mind as to the strength of the form, but three is little doubt that Un De Sceaux is a class act and got the job done nicely.

It’s impossible to envisage Sir De Grugy turning the tables with him come March, and 2013 winner Sprinter Sacre now seems to be the only one capable of stopping Un De Sceaux lifting this year’s renewal of the Queen Mother.

Vroum Vroum Mag enhances Festival claims

Ascot

Vroum Vroum Mag laid down her Cheltenham Festival credentials with a smooth success in the OLBG Mare’s Hurdle at Ascot, but connections are in no rush to finalise which race she will run in at the four-day spectacular in March.

The seven-year-old is now 9/2 second favourite (from 8s) for the World Hurdle on Thursday, March 17th, and 3/1 second favoruite (from 7s) for the Mares’ Hurdle on Tuesday, March 15th.

Here ultimate target is likely to be determined on whether stablemate Annie Power is able to have a prep race before the Festival.

Mullins and owner Rich Ricci indicated after Vroum Vroum Mag’s victory that it would be easier for Annie Power to go for the Mares’ Hurdle without a run under her belt, but will leave a final decision on plans for the pair until as late as possible.

There was certainly lots to like about the way in which Vroum Vroum Mag got the job done on Saturday when put under pressure for the first time, and she ultimately scored with more in hand than the 3 1/2 length winning margin suggests.

However, with the runner-up Jennies Jewel being rated just 138 and the third home Cannon Fodder 131 there has to be a big question as to how strong the form actually is.

To my eyes it looks weak, but Vroum Vroum Mag clearly has a big engine and it’s hard to knock a mare that us unbeaten in eight starts since joining Mullins and has answered every question asked of her so far.

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