Majestic Douvan to be appreciated for the brilliant chaser he is
Richard Forristal says greatness awaits an equine star
Jump racing enthusiasts tend to be a romantic bunch, so it might be said that the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase threatens to not quite live up to the purists’ utopian ideals.
Rags-to-riches underdog fairytales, pulsating battles and champions displaying an unyielding resilience or making glorious comebacks tend to be the sort of themes we like to think defines the sport’s magic.
For Wednesday's £365,760 Prestbury Park feature, we should probably disabuse ourselves of such lofty sentiments. Douvan is many things, but none of the above crowd-pleasing elements apply to a majestic specimen that might yet prove to be one of the finest chasers of this or any other generation. Let’s not blame him for that.
In 13 starts for Willie Mullins, he has never come remotely close to being bettered. The stunningly athletic seven-year-old’s average margin of superiority in the eight Grade 1s he has accumulated is nearly 11 lengths.
He is untouchable, or at least he has been until now. Chances are another flawless exhibition awaits under the similarly peerless Ruby Walsh, and a temptation to mention Douvan in the same breath as some of the festival’s finest equine champions is more understandable than premature.
Douvan graces the Cotswolds looking to emulate Flyingbolt and Bobs Worth by plundering a third different race after emphatic routs in the 2015 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and last year’s Racing Post Arkle.
It’s the very treble that Flyingbolt completed 51 years ago, and many of those who had the privilege to witness that brilliant white-faced chestnut will tell you that history isn’t as kind to him as it should be simply because he had the misfortune to inhabit Tom Dreaper’s fabled yard at the same time as Arkle.
With Hurricane Fly and the cruelly fatally-injured Vautour off the scene, and Annie Power and Faugheen sidelined, Douvan doesn’t face such stern competition for the Closutton limelight right now, although Djakadam would crank it up were he to finally lay Mullins’ Gold Cup hoodoo to rest on Friday.
Regardless, it would be grievously wrong not to fully appreciate this magnificent beast for what he is, rather than condemn him for what isn’t here to test him.
We’ve been privy to many great jumpers in recent times, but iconic horses of the calibre of Istabraq, Hurricane Fly, Kauto Star, Best Mate and Master Minded never racked up such lengthy unbeaten runs.
The glorious 18-race winning streak of Big Buck's is the only similarly flawless record, one that stretches to 19 if you factor in the completed starts caveat. If we apply the same criteria, the mighty Moscow Flyer was unbowed in 20 when he negotiated the course successfully.
That is the realm in which Douvan is now loitering with intent.
Remarkably, Cause Of Causes also has the chance to land a third different race at the festival, albeit at a lower level in the cross-country race.
Despite Patrick Mullins having ridden Neon Wolf to point-to-point success for Mags Mullins a year ago, the story goes that his father was among those to eschew the chance to add the exciting Vinnie Roe gelding to his roster.
By around 1.35pm we’ll know if that decision is going to come back to haunt the Closutton maestro, whose Bacardys spearheads a potent four-strong team charged with toppling the Harry Fry-trained Neon Wolf in the Neptune.
Later on, Robbie McNamara will vie to plunder a first festival win as a trainer with Quick Grabim in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper. It was in the same Grade 1 McNamara made his festival breakthrough as an amateur aboard the Dermot Weld-trained Silver Concorde in 2014.
A lot has happened in the interim, and there will hardly be a more emotionally-charged reception if Quick Grabim emerges victorious.
Such is McNamara’s phlegmatic attitude to being confined to a wheelchair since that fateful fall at Wexford two years ago that he has joked on the preview circuit he would get up and walk if Jezki were to win the Stayers’ Hurdle.
His tenacity has been utterly humbling and, while the Jezki quip was designed to generate the laughs that define such preview nights, he might still abandon the wheelchair if Quick Grabim were to prevail, for he would surely be carried aloft into the winner’s enclosure.
Plenty of water has also passed under the bridge since Roger Loughran’s moment of madness aboard Central House at Leopardstown 12 years ago.
Mistaking the winning post in a Grade 1 was a dramatic faux pas, but Loughran has never given up on the dream. In Acapella Bourgeois, he might finally have a horse that can carry him to redemption in the RSA Chase.
Sadly, Central House’s legendary trainer Dessie Hughes has since departed this mortal earth, but he will look down gleefully if his daughter Sandra and Loughran combine to secure what would be a debut festival triumph for both.
Courage in adversity and poignant comebacks are enchanting motifs that would appease the romantics among us, so there is no shortage of potential fairytales. Douvan, on the other hand, is simply a horse we must savour for his sheer unadulterated class.
Let's cherish him while we can.