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Wednesday, 19 December, 2018

Mullins armada heads strong Anglo-Irish challenge for Grade 1 honours

Djakadam: bids to give Willie Mullins a first win in the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris
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3.55 Auteuil
Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil (Grade 1) | 3m1½f | 5yo+ 

For the first time, the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris and the Grande Course de Haies – France's Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle equivalents – are run on the same card and perennial Auteuil visitor Willie Mullins is well-represented in both races. 

The international nature of the Grande Course de Haies is further strengthened by the presence of Grade 1-winning chaser Tea For Two and defending champion, L'Ami Serge.

"He’s been in great form all season," said L'Ami Serge's trainer Nicky Henderson. "I do think three miles stretches him a bit but it wasn’t stamina that beat him in the Stayers Hurdle. He wants a good gallop so he can drop out and pick them up late. 

"The Stayers this year was a bit of a dash, whereas at Aintree they did what he wanted. Daryl [Jacob] gave him the most amazing ride last year and I expect him to be doing the same this year."

Tea For Two was a close third to Might Bite in the King George but has struggled to make an impression in three starts since.

Tea For Two and Lizzie Kelly: hoping to come back to form

"He really doesn’t like heavy going and we hope he can be in the money," said owner and co-trainer Jane Williams. "He was a good hurdler in his day and he'll love the in-between sized hurdles, but it's a bit of a trial."

Mullins four-strong

Willie Mullins has previously won the Grande Course de Haies on four occasions and has four chances to add to that record in a race which is run over an extended three miles. 

Yorkhill and Killultagh Vic come here with their trainer hoping for a change of fortune following disappointing campaigns over fences. 

"Yorkhill has had a very in-and-out season for different reasons," said the trainer, who has entrusted the ride to Danny Mullins. "He's a horse with a lot of talent if we can get it right on the day."

David Mullins takes the ride on Killultagh Vic, last seen finishing fifth in the Coral Gold Cup at Punchestown.

Killultagh Vic: led jumping the last in the Unibet Irish Gold Cup but crumpled on landing

Mullins said: "Leopardstown was probably his best performance of the year and he lost his confidence a bit jumping fences in the second half of the season. I don’t foresee that being a problem over these intermediate hurdles, which should suit him, while he’ll love the trip.

"I thought the sharper trip would be fine for Coquin Mans [the mount of James Reveley] at Punchestown but he disappointed there. Back up in trip is probably what he wants," added Mullins.

"I think three miles will suit Bapaume [ridden by Jacques Ricou] and hopefully it’s not too soon for him. We ran him over the trip at Christmas but he's a horse I’m looking forward to next year over this distance, more so than this year. The conditions of the race and the ground will suit him."

Alex De Larredya (green): finishing second to Ptit Zig

The home defence rests with Francois Nicolle, who saddles dual Grade 1 winner and strong-stayer Alex De Larredya, as well as the talented De Bon Coeur, who lost her unbeaten record last time and has her stamina to prove. 

"I have no doubts about her form after the way she worked this week and I'll have her rider her switch her off a little more as this is the first time over the trip," Nicolle told Jour de Galop. 

3.15 Auteuil
Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris (Grade 1) | 3m6f | 5yo+

Mullins has yet to finish better than seventh in three previous attempts at the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris (3.15), run this year for the small matter of €820,000 but believes Djakadam – runner-up to Bellshill in the Punchestown Gold Cup last month – represents his best chance of lifting the prize to date.

Djakadam (right): second in the Punchestown Gold Cup last time

Mullins said: "I’m really looking forward to it and it'll be a great experience for David [Mullins]. Even though he has his Grand Nationals behind him already, he's a young jockey starting out and I think he'll enjoy the challenge of Auteuil.

"I think the horse is brave enough and has enough scope, so he should enjoy jumping round there. He has the profile of a horse to run in the race and I’m hopeful he'll rise to the challenge."

Guillaume Macaire has won four of the last five editions of France's biggest jumping prize and fields four runners, including hat-trick seeking So French, who was a doubt for the race having fallen when schooling but has pleased his trainer in the last fortnight.

So French and James Reveley: lead them over the water on the way to victory in the 2016 Grand Steeple-Chase

The only five-year-old in the lineup, Edward D'Argent, looks potentially the classiest of the Macaire quartet, while James Reveley – successful twice in this race on So French – will hope that On The Go can improve on his showing behind Edward D'Argent in the Prix Ingre off an interrupted preparation. 

Nicolle also fields four in search of a first win in the race, with Bipolaire arguably the best of them. Last year's runner-up, Perfect Impulse, and 2015 winner, Milord Thomas, will carry plenty of support in what looks an above-average Grand Steeple-Chase lineup. 

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He has the profile of a horse to run in the race and I’m hopeful he'll rise to the challenge
E.W. Terms
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