by ANNIE DALE THE Cheltenham Festival is four weeks away and Willie Mullins will be putting the finishing touches to his big team of Irish invaders. And he has sprung a surprise by entering two of his former Cheltenham heroes in Ireland this weekend ahead of next month’s extravaganza at Prestbury Park. Douvan and Vroum Vroum Mag, both owned by Rich Ricci, looked set to miss the whole season but have been declared to run at Gowran Park on Saturday.
2016 Arkle winner Douvan has not been seen on a racecourse since losing his unbeaten record last year in the Queen Mother Champion Chase when the 2/9 favourite. An injury had seemingly threatened the career of one of racing’s biggest stars of, so it will be D-day for the eight-year-old if he runs in Saturday’s Red Mills Chase.
Given he is entered to run over 2m 4f, a return to the Champion Chase looks unlikely, especially as stablemate Min, who is also owned by Ricci, is all set for a mouth-watering showdown with Altior. The longer Ryanair Chase is the likely target should he come through Saturday’s test, and some bookmakers have been quick to clip his price in that market.
Since the news broke, about three-quarters of bets on the Ryanair market have been on Douvan. Punters are also piling in to Vroum Vroum Mag with 91% of bets in the Mares Hurdle on Mullins’ nine-year-old. Her odds have tumbled from 14/1 to 7/1 so make sure you shop around and get the best Cheltenham Festival bets if you can.
Talking of Cheltenham, Coeur De Lion booked his ticket to the Festival by winning the feature race on the all-weather at Southwell on Tuesday. Alan King’s dual purpose performer finished seventh in the Triumph Hurdle last March and is likely to try his luck in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle this time around.
Second to stablemate Who Dares Wins in the Cesarewitch Trial at Newmarket, he has cut little ice in two runs over timber in decent company this season. Ridden by Hollie Doyle in the Betway Handicap, he made good ground from the rear to beat the game Mixboy by a length as the 13-8 favourite.
“He didn’t look as if he enjoyed the kickback, but he won well,” said King.
“We just wanted to give him a run before Cheltenham. The plan would be to go for the Martin Pipe and I might give him an entry in the Coral Cup, but I don’t think he’ll get in that.
“It was ideal today. Basically he’s better handicapped on the Flat and it was a nice prize today.
“We just thought it was a better prep than trying to run him over hurdles as at the minute he’s not handicapped to win over hurdles.”