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Ricci reveals Mullins team were never happy with Douvan last season

Douvan after finishing down the field in the Champion Chase
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Although Douvan's long-odds-on defeat in the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March was undoubtedly a shock, owner Rich Ricci has revealed he and the Willie Mullins team were never quite satisfied with the star chaser last season.

Although Douvan landed the Grade 2 Hilly Way Chase at Cork by 22 lengths and trounced subsequent Gold Cup hero Sizing John by eight lengths in the Grade 1 Paddy Power Cashcard Chase before warming up for Cheltenham with an easy Grade 2 Tied Cottage Chase win, Ricci admitted: "Something was clearly bothering Douvan for most of last year and he wasn't quite himself."

He added: "No-one was entirely happy with him the whole time despite him putting in some pretty good performances. He just wasn't showing that bullying style on the gallops, in his races. 

"Of course it came to light at Cheltenham that he just wasn't right, it was his hip, but he seems to be back in his pomp. It would be great to have him back to what he was."

Rich Ricci: looking to applaud home some of his top-class team again this season

While matters apparently remain open for Douvan regarding distance – he has never raced beyond 2m1f – the owner said: "I'm sure we'll talk about what we'll do with him because I think there's a lot of options. He's entered for the King George."

Ricci, who was speaking on Racing UK's Luck On Sunday, added: "He could stay at two miles, he could step up in trip. It depends what happens with Min, who has summered particularly well. American Tom came back yesterday and ran very, very well and will come on for that run – we have options.

"We normally have a debate down in Willie's at this time of year about what we might do with horses but we haven't done that this year, just being busy with Melbourne and things like that."

Speaking on any potential ambitions to try Douvan over increased distances, he said: "I'm not sure if we want to step him up in trip – I really don't know.

"We know how good he is at two miles. I've always thought he might step up. We'll have to see how all the pieces fit together at the yard with our own string and some others as well."

Douvan and Ruby Walsh on the way to victory in last year's Paddy Power Cashcard Chase at Leopardstown

A clash with Altior in the Tingle Creek at Sandown was all but ruled out for Douvan, as Djakadam looks set to start his campaign in the John Durkan at Punchestown.

There was also a positive bulletin regarding seven-time Grade 1 winner Faugheen, with Ricci hopeful the nine-year-old will make his comeback at Punchestown next weekend in the Morgiana Hurdle, a race in which he has "unfinished business".

Ricci explained: "He's in the Morgiana next Sunday and the Hatton's Grace a few weeks after – the plan is to run on Sunday.

"We've been here before with Faugheen and Annie Power, we thought we were close a few times last year, so touch wood, you never know."

Ricci added: "It would be great just to see him back on the racecourse, but we're in the game to win and we've got some unfinished business in the Morgiana. It would be a great story to see Faugheen come back and retain his ability. It would certainly shake up the Champion Hurdle market.

Ricci with jockey Ruby Walsh, groom John Codd and trainer Willie Mullins after Faugheen's victory in last year's Irish Champion Hurdle

"Everything seems to have gone to plan. We kept him in longer than the other horses before we threw him out for a shorter spell so he wouldn't gain all that weight and be hard to get back into shape – that seems to have been a good idea. He's had plenty of time."

Explaining the challenge the former Champion Hurdle winner faces, his owner said: "He's been off for almost two years – he ran last in January 2016 – so it's a big ask, but I'm very hopeful he retains most of his ability. I'm excited to see him back and by all accounts he's going well."

Faugheen is among a host of star names entered in the Bar One Racing Hatton’s Grace Hurdle on Fairyhouse's triple-Grade 1 fixture on December 3, with Apple's Jade, Jezki, Campeador, Tigris River and Supasundae also in the €100,000 2m4f event, while Mullins can also call upon Yorkhill, Melon, Cilaos Emery, Nichols Canyon, Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag.

The Bar One-sponsored Royal Bond Novice Hurdle is another top-level event on the Fairyhouse card in which Mullins and Elliott look to hold sway, with Elliott particularly dominant with Samcro, Blow By Blow, Pallasator, Poli Roi and Roaring Bull among ten entrants. Red Jack, Early Doors, Le Richebourg and Sayar are other notable names in the mix.

Death Duty, Any Second Now, Bamako Moriviere, Monalee and Shattered Love are standout entries among 23 pencilled in for the 2m4f Drinmore Novice Chase.

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We know how good he is at two miles. I've always thought he might step up. We'll have to see how all the pieces fit together at the yard
E.W. Terms