Ruby Walsh is confident Douvan’s huge engine remains intact for the new campaign.
The eight-year-old was unbeaten in his first 13 starts after joining Willie Mullins in 2014, an all-conquering run which included successive wins at the Cheltenham Festival in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle Trophy.
However, he suffered a shock defeat and injury in last year’s Queen Mother Champion Chase and did not return to action until this year’s renewal of the two-mile showpiece, in which he fell four fences from home when in the lead.
He was beaten by stablemate Un De Sceaux on his only subsequent start at the Punchestown Festival, and Walsh – who missed out on riding Douvan on both starts last season through injury – is keeping his fingers crossed connections get a clear run with him this winter.
Walsh, a Paddy Power racing ambassador and columnist with Paddy Power News, said: “I thought Douvan would win the Champion Chase. I was reading the commentary on my phone.
“Who knows what would have happened had he not fallen at the fourth last? It was amazing to get him back.
“The engine is there – he just hasn’t had any luck – and it would be great for the racing public to see the horse that we think he is.”
Douvan is part of a formidable team of chasers Mullins is preparing for war this season.
The aforementioned Un De Sceaux was resurgent at Punchestown, and is also reported to be firing on all cylinders.
“He’s a remarkable little horse – and even now, he’s still got as much enthusiasm as he ever had,” said Walsh.
“His appetite for exercise and training is incredible. I can’t wait to get my leg back over him.”
Footpad won each of his five starts over fences last season, including the Irish Arkle, the Arkle at Cheltenham and the Ryanair Novice Chase at Punchestown.
Walsh added: “From the first morning we schooled him over fences, we were raving about him.
“Jumping fences has brought a huge amount of improvement in him – and like Samcro over hurdles, he and Presenting Percy were the stars over fences last season.
“He’s only six, so the best is hopefully still to come.”
The wait for an elusive first Cheltenham Gold Cup success for the Mullins yard goes on.
Ireland’s perennial champion trainer has seen his runners finish second in the blue riband on no less than six occasions.
His chief hope this year appears to be Punchestown Gold Cup winner Bellshill, while Walsh expects leading novice Al Boum Photo to be competing at the top level as well.
Walsh said: “Bellshill had a stop-start season. We’ve always thought a huge amount of him. He’s rated 168 and he doesn’t have a huge amount of improvement to do to be a genuine Gold Cup horse.
“He looked to stay in the Irish National, so the Gold Cup trip shouldn’t be a problem for him. Non-stayers don’t win the Gold Cup, and he’s got something a lot of other horses don’t have. He’s a really exciting horse.
“Al Boum Photo developed into a top-class novice chaser, and you’d imagine he’s going to have to head down the Grade One chase route over three miles and see where it takes him. I think he’s crying out for three miles plus.”