Vautour to put reputation on the line in Deloitte ahead of Supreme test

Vautour, the shortest price of 22 entries for trainer Willie Mullins in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, is set to put his growing reputation on the line in the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday. The stats suggest he faces a tough challenge if he is to justify his position at the head of the market for his Cheltenham target.

Since 1987, just four horses aged five have won the race – and they included the mighty Istabraq in 1997.

There have also been just two horses from that age group that have won the race and gone on to score in the Supreme since 2000 – Brave Inca in 1994 and Vautour’s stable companion Champagne Fever 12 months ago.

That suggests that Vautour, who is currently the 8/1 joint-favourite with Coral for the Supreme, will have to improve again to live up to his tall home reputation – despite the fact that he is unbeaten in two starts over hurdles since coming over from France.

In the first of those he ran out an impressive winner of his maiden hurdle at Navan when beating Lieutenant Colonel by 5 1/2 lengths. Vautour was then made to work hard to beat Western Boy by 3/4 of a length in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novices’ Hurdle last time out.

Mullins said after his latest win: “He idled going to the last then fiddled it. When Paul (Townend) asked him, he felt he had plenty in the tank and I loved the way he fought back when he looked beaten.

“He’ll come on from that. As he goes up in grade they will go faster, which will help as he was pulling too hard and using up petrol.

“Western Boy is a very decent horse and the two of them pulled well clear of the rest.”

Vautour is due to lock horns with that rival again in the Deloitte, and if he comes through the test then is likely to be partnered by Ruby Walsh.

However, Mullins also looks to have another lively contender for the Supreme if things don’t go to plan in the shape of Wicklow Brave.

He also beat Lieutenant Colonel on his latest start at Punchestown in the listed INH Stallion Owners EBF Novice Hurdle, where he travelled on the bridle throughout before overcoming a mistake at the last and coasted clear to win by 4 1/2 lengths without being troubled.

That was Wicklow Brave’s second win over hurdles following a hat-trick of victories in bumpers, and on the form book there is little to choose between him and Vautour.

The five-year-old also looks the type that will relish the hustle and bustle and strong end-to-end gallop in the Supreme, for which he is a 12/1 chance with Coral.