1. Douvan (Timeform rating c182)
“I think Douvan is the best we've ever had – full stop – but he's not sound enough. It's very frustrating and a bit sad.”
Those were the words of Patrick Mullins – assistant trainer to his father, Willie – when speaking on Racing TV in January, shortly before Douvan was ruled out of a fifth appearance at the Cheltenham Festival due to yet another injury setback. His frustration is well-founded, too, given that the now-10-year-old has been limited to only three starts since suffering a fractured pelvis in the 2017 Champion Chase, for which he had been sent off the 9/2-on favourite.
Nevertheless, Douvan’s achievements up to that point consolidate the view that he is the best they’ve ever had at Closutton, notably a winning sequence that spanned 13 races after joining Mullins.
That included Festival wins in his first two attempts – the 2015 Supreme and the 2016 Arkle – while his best effort on Timeform ratings came when recording an eighth Grade 1 success at Leopardstown in December 2016, beating the subsequent Gold Cup winner Sizing John by eight lengths in effortless fashion.
2. Vautour (Timeform rating c180)
Much like Douvan, circumstances meant that Vautour arguably never got the opportunity to fulfil his immense potential, with a freak accident at Mullins’ yard in November 2016 resulting in him having to be put down.
Vautour was still only a seven-year-old at the time and had given glimpses of what he might be able to achieve during the 2015/16 campaign, when producing two performances of the very highest order. Beaten just a head by Cue Card in a thrilling renewal of the King George, he then put up an exhilarating display to win the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, quickening clear in the straight to land the spoils by six lengths from Valseur Lido.
That was Vautour’s third Festival success after the 2014 Supreme and the 2015 JLT Novices’ Chase, all of them performances that will live long in the memory. Indeed, few horses over the years have seemed so suited to the demands of Cheltenham as him, with the biggest disappointment being that he never lined up in the most prestigious prize of them all – the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
📆 March 12, 2015— Racing TV (@RacingTV) March 8, 2019
A brilliant performance from Vautour who landed the JLT Novices' Chase by 15 lengths under Ruby Walsh. 👏👏#CheltenhamFestival #IconicMoments pic.twitter.com/QQRc8Q0ZfF
3. Chacun Pour Soi (Timeform rating c176p)
Chacun Pour Soi became Timeform’s highest-rated chaser in training when landing the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown in February, ultimately beating stablemate Min by three and three-quarter lengths in ready fashion.
The eight-year-old had looked something out of the ordinary when beating Defi du Seuil in a Grade 1 at Punchestown as a novice chaser, and he duly confirmed that impression at the Dublin Racing Festival, with the manner in which he glided past Min approaching the home turn marking him down as a chaser of the highest calibre, not to mention a leading contender for the Champion Chase.
Unfortunately, Chacun Pour Soi was ruled out of that Festival highlight after enduring a minor setback on the morning of the race, and he seemingly hasn’t been the easiest to train since arriving at Mullins’ yard, with his successful Irish debut in March 2019 coming fully three years after his final start for his previous connections in France.
Nevertheless, the ‘p’ attached to his Timeform ratings denotes that we probably haven’t seen the best of him yet – provided he stands more regular racing, of course – and he still appeals as one of the standout contenders in the two-mile chasing division for 2020/21.
🏇 Chacun is firmly on the Champion Chase trail!— Racing TV (@RacingTV) February 1, 2020
🥊 Chacun Pour Soi lands the knockout blow over the gallant Min to capture the G1 Ladbrokes Dublin Chase!
👀 Altior vs Defi Du Seuil vs Chacun Pour Soi - Champion Chase, Wednesday, March 11@LeopardstownRC @WillieMullinsNH #DRF pic.twitter.com/Plp3lyTTNj
Faugheen (Timeform rating h176)
Faugheen is another who was seen only sporadically during what should have been the best years of his career, with injuries limiting him to only four starts in the 32 months that followed his success in the 2015 Champion Hurdle.
His best performance still came during that spell, when beating stablemate Arctic Fire by 15 lengths in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in January 2016. The Timeform report after that race described him as being “on his way to becoming one of the hurdling greats”, but a suspensory problem and then a fracture kept him off the track for nearly two years before he returned to win the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.
Faugheen has suffered other setbacks in more recent times, too, and that made his return to form in the latest season an even more heart-warming story, with the decision to switch to fences at the age of 12 yielding a hat-trick of wins (including a pair of Grade 1s) and a close-up third in the Marsh Novices’ Chase back at Cheltenham last time.
Kemboy (Timeform rating c176)
Al Boum Photo provided Mullins with an overdue first Gold Cup success in 2019, though he wasn’t even the top-rated staying chaser in his own yard by the end of that season, with that honour instead belonging to Kemboy.
An early casualty at Cheltenham, that proved to be the only glitch in Kemboy’s 2018/19 campaign, with his wins including the Savills Chase at Leopardstown, the Bowl Chase at Aintree and the Punchestown Gold Cup, when beating Al Boum Photo by two lengths under Ruby Walsh, Mullins’ long-time number one jockey who retired immediately afterwards.
Admittedly, Kemboy failed to reproduce that level of form in three starts in the latest season, most recently finishing seventh in the Gold Cup – for which he had been the 6/1-favourite at the start of the campaign – but he’s as good as any of the current crop of staying chasers on his day, well worth another chance to prove as much in 2020/21.
6. Djakadam (Timeform rating c175)
Prior to Al Boum Photo’s breakthrough win in 2019, Mullins-trained runners had finished second in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on six occasions, with Djakadam having to settle for the runner-up spot in both 2015 and 2016.
The top-class form he showed each time would have been good enough to win many an ordinary renewal, but he ran into a freak novice in Coneygree at the first attempt, before finding only the brilliant Don Cossack too strong the following year. Djakadam also finished fourth behind Sizing John in 2017 – when he probably would have finished even closer but for a bad mistake at the second-last – and fifth behind Native River in 2018.
Overall, Djakadam’s win record doesn’t necessarily make for impressive reading – his only Grade 1 successes came in back-to-back renewals of the John Durkan in 2015 and 2016 – but he will be remembered as a thoroughly consistent staying chaser who added plenty to some memorable races, notably finishing placed in eight other Grade 1s away from Cheltenham.
7. Al Boum Photo (Timeform rating c174)
As previously discussed, Al Boum Photo was a landmark winner of the Gold Cup for Mullins in 2019, staying on strongly on the run-in to beat the previous year’s third Anibale Fly by two and a half lengths, and he produced an even better effort in defeat on Timeform ratings when second behind Kemboy in the Punchestown Gold Cup.
The eight-year-old followed the same route to this year’s Gold Cup as he had in the previous season, with his only previous start yielding a straightforward success at Tramore on New Year’s Day. That patient approach had a similarly positive outcome at the Festival, too, as Al Boum Photo found plenty to hold off the late thrust of Santini, in the process becoming the first back-to-back winner of the blue riband since Best Mate won his third in 2004.
That effort seemed a fair guide to his merit, demonstrating that he is a bona fide top-class chaser, and his terrific attitude should continue to stand him in good stead, still young enough to think a third win in the Gold Cup is a distinct possibility.
Footpad (Timeform rating c174)
A very smart hurdler who was good enough to finish fourth in the 2017 Champion Hurdle, Footpad took his form to another level when switched to fences later that year, going unbeaten in five starts to identify himself as the standout amongst that season’s novice chasers.
His best performance came in the Arkle at Cheltenham, when routing the field by 14 lengths, and the level of form he achieved that season identified him as potentially the chief danger to Altior heading into the 2018/19 campaign, with a clash between the pair in the Champion Chase being top of the wish list for most National Hunt fans.
In the event, however, Footpad proved a major flop in six subsequent starts for Mullins, with his only win coming in a listed heat at Thurles on his reappearance in the latest season. Well below that form on his next two outings, he has reportedly been sold to continue his racing career in America.
Min (Timeform rating c174)
Min finished behind Altior in his first three visits to the Cheltenham Festival – including when second in the 2018 Champion Chase – but he has still shown himself to be every inch a top-class chaser in his own right, notably winning last year’s Melling Chase at Aintree by 20 lengths.
The nine-year-old bagged the Festival success that his record deserved in the latest season, too, not needing to improve but still showing all his best qualities to win the Ryanair Chase, travelling and jumping fluently on his way to a neck-defeat of Saint Calvados.
Min’s CV also includes back-to-back wins in both the John Durkan and the Dublin Chase – he found only stablemate Chacun Pour Soi too strong when attempting to win the last-named event for the third consecutive year – and his versatility should ensure there are more big days in him yet, a top-class and reliable performer over trips ranging from two to two and a half miles.
Un de Sceaux (Timeform rating c174)
“As genuine a racehorse as you’ll find, he has been incredibly consistent throughout his career.”
That was the conclusion to Un de Sceaux’s essay in Chasers & Hurdlers 2018/19, and he received plenty of similarly glowing tributes following the news of his retirement in late-February, with many highlights to reflect on in a career that featured an impressive tally of 23 wins from 34 starts.
In his early years at Closutton, Un de Sceaux’s form reached Champion Hurdle standard without him ever being tested against the very best hurdlers in Britain and Ireland, and it is for his exploits over fences that he is undoubtedly best known, including a novice season in 2014/15 which saw him win all four completed starts, with a performance in the Arkle that has been bettered in recent renewals of that race by only Sprinter Sacre.
That horse would go on to inflict Un de Sceaux’s first two defeats when completing in the following season, but there was still plenty of big-race success to be enjoyed with Mullins’ popular tearaway, with his Champion Chase victory at the 2019 Punchestown Festival – his second successive win in that race – being his tenth at Grade 1 level.
His other landmark wins included the 2017 Ryanair Chase and three consecutive renewals of the Clarence House Chase between 2016 and 2018, while he showed himself still capable of top-class form at the age of 11 when narrowly denied by Defi du Seuil in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December (a race he also won in 2016).