Disappointing Douvan effort leaves Walsh and Mullins in shock
Douvan was last night found to be lame behind following a vet’s examination after a performance that stunned Cheltenham, left Ruby Walsh gobsmacked and the betting industry celebrating a £10 million windfall.
Unbeaten since joining Mullins and nine from nine over fences, few entertained the likelihood of the 2-9 favourite and the horse described by trainer Willie Mullins as potentially the best he has trained failing to add the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase to his big-race haul.
But by the time he came under pressure between the third- and second-last fence he had already made a succession of jumping misjudgements, beginning at the third fence which he landed on top of after taking off early. After that he never regained his rhythm.
Ruby Walsh attempted to cajole a response out of Douvan over the last two but there was no response as he faded into a seventh, more than 11 lengths behind the winner Special Tiara.
A dejected Walsh said: "We were beaten a long way out, he didn't jump well. He didn't feel right and he never got going."
He told the stewards that Douvan, who underwent a routine dope test, jumped poorly throughout.
Mullins said: "To me he was clearly not going well at the top of the hill. I'm assuming something happened to him when he put in those huge jumps. I don't think he's ever done that before. Why he did that I don't know. I would imagine we'll find a physical problem rather than anything else.
"Ruby was just a bit gobsmacked. He didn't jump with his usual fluency. Usually we find something wrong when something like that happens. I think he probably pulled something, maybe a muscle or a ligament and hopefully it's something that will come right straightaway.
"When I saw him doing that I said he was going to have to be a super horse to win this because you don't get away with that sort of jumping and win Champion Chases. You might win a beginners' chase or something like that but not a championship race.
"I'm hoping he could be one of the best horses I've ever trained and today it was really not his run. We're all disappointed that just happened. Now my main job is to find out what is wrong and how long it will take to fix."
He added: "Ruby didn't say he was lame. I think the one thing he said to me was he wasn't moving well behind. I don't know whether that was during the race or when he was just pulling up.
"When they jump like that they can injure themselves. That's a huge strain on a horse his size, He put in two or three of those and I'd say must have done something."
Douvan was the one horse it was expected Mullins could count on at Cheltenham, having come to the meeting without Champion Hurdle winners Annie Power and Faugheen and having lost 60 Gigginstown House Stud horses earlier in the season.
William Hill spokesman Jon Ivan-Duke said: “It’s an extraordinary result and one of the best outcomes for bookmakers since the turn of the century.”
On Tuesday Mullins, who has led the festival standings at the last four meetings, drew a blank for the first time since 2008 with fancied Melon, Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag among the vanquished.