By Andy Stephens
The Gold Cup has been discounted after the dual Festival winner faded to finish last in the Christmas Chase over three miles at Leopardstown last month but it speaks volumes for his ability/versatility that his connections can still choose between the Unibet Champion Hurdle, Betway Champion Chase and Ryanair Chase.
He is no bigger than 12-1 to win any of those races and Patrick Mullins, son and assistant of trainer Willie, added fuel to the fire on Sunday by suggesting he could win any contest chosen for him - be it over hurdles or fences - should he drop back to two miles.
“I think he can win the Champion Chase or Champion Hurdle,” Mullins said, when speaking on Racing UK’s weekly breakfast show Luck On Sunday.
“His pedigree says he should want further but obviously his mindset and the way he is programmed means that probably the races to get the most out of his ability are over shorter trips. He could win either of those races.”
The former, absent since injuring his pelvis at Cheltenham ten months ago, was ruled out for the season last month but his subsequent progress means there remains a possibility he will cross swords with Altior in the Champion Chase, for which he is 3-1 with a run and 7-1 with Boylesports for those who prefer to bet without a safety net.
Faugheen blotted his copybook when pulled up at Leopardstown last month when 2-11 favourite. He had previously lost only once in 14 starts and an attempt to regain his 2015 Champion Hurdle crown remains on his agenda.
If either fall by the wayside between now and mid-March it is not difficult to imagine Yorkhill helping to potentially fill the void.
“We are taking it day by day,” Mullins Jr said with regard to Douvan. “The vet has given us a far more positive prognosis than he did originally so we are going to keep tipping away and if we are 100 per cent happy we can come back. If we are not we won’t.Douvan is "tipping away" ahead of a possible second tilt at the Champoion Chase (PA)
“He’s doing some steady work and we are slowly progressing him every day. We are crossing our fingers.”
Meanwhile, Faugheen’s inexplicably poor showing continues to mystify everyone surrounded by him.
Mullins knows him as well as any and said: “I was shell-shocked. Watching the race I could tell from between the second and third hurdle that something was amiss.
“If he’d got to the second last hurdle or home bend and finished a close third, or a bad third, maybe you would just he has not run to form but he was beaten so early. It was very strange.
“Paul (Townend) said that it was like flying a plane with no engine. We can’t see anything obvious, we are kind of flabbergasted but hopefully it was a one-off.”
Faugheen’s subsequent demeanour has indicated he might easily recapture his best and he is no bigger than 5-1 to win a second Champion Hurdle but he still has another significant hoop to jump through._Getabird impressed under Mullins at Punchestown on Saturday _(Racingfotos)
“He’s come home in one piece and is back in full work but he’s not done any fast work,” Mullins said. “Maybe when we come to do fast work something will come to light but up to now there’s been nothing.”
Mullins himself partnered Getabird to an impressive nine-length win over Mengli Khan in the Grade Two Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown on Saturday - a race Mikael D'Haguenet (2009), Vautour (2014) and Douvan (2015) had all been victorious in for the yard before going on to claim Cheltenham Festival glory later in the season.
It remains to be decided whether the unbeaten six-year-old runs in the first race of the Festival or goes back up in distance for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle 24 hours later.
The possibility of him running again before Cheltenham has also yet to be finalised and, of course, he still has to get there. Last year he had to miss the meeting after a setback - he had been favourite for the Champion Bumper - and Mullins revealed he is more delicate than most.
“Getabird hasn’t got the most fantastic confirmation in the world and that probably counts against him,” he said. “He hasn’t got the greatest set of front legs, although now he’s older, stronger and more mature it might count against him less.
“We wouldn’t be training him as hard as some of the other horses, which is probably why he improved so much from his first run to his second run.
“Because we are not hard on him at home we haven’t had a look under the bonnet so much - that’s probably why maybe we were surprised how much he has progressed.” Mullins made all aboard Getabird and the combination pulled clear after two out without being fully extended.
“It was a performance beyond anything I expected,” he said. “I was really impressed with how rapid his jumping was and that opens up the possibility of the Supreme Novices if we want to go that way.
“The gears he showed from the back of the second last and again to the back of the last impressed me. He didn’t have those when I rode him as a bumper horse so he has obviously improved.
“The Grade One in Leopardstown at the new festival is three weeks away so that would fit (for him) but everything about yesterday says he doesn’t need another run.
“I’m not sure what we will do - get more experience and go to Leopardstown or keep him under wraps and go straight to Cheltenham. Rich (Ricci, the owner) and Willie will have to discuss that.”Min was demoted at Leopardstown for causing interference to Simply Ned (PA)
Mullins also gave an upbeat bulletin on Min, who won at Leopardstown over the festive period only to be demoted for causing Simply Ned interference.
“It looked a good opportunity and I’d be very surprised if that’s the best of Min. I think we will see better from him next time out,” he said. “Down the back he put in some hugely extravagant leaps which might just have taken a bit out of him. Perhaps we will ride him a bit differently next time.”
The Mullins camp have five entries in the Gold Cup but lack an outstanding candidate.
“It’s early at this stage but nothing stands out,” Mullins Jr admitted. “Perhaps Djakadam chance has passed him by, while Total Recall is improving at a rate of knots but his Ladbrokes Trophy run probably leaves him with a good stone to improve at least, doesn’t it?
“Bachasson has been very good at Tramore and Thurles. He would need to step up a lot but perhaps he can. He wouldn’t look like your normal Gold Cup horse - he's quite slight and not very big - but he’s got fantastic scope.”
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