Willie Mullins describes it as “nearly a victory” in itself as Douvan prepares to make his long-awaited comeback in the Clonmel Oil Chase.
It is more than 18 months since Mullins’ brilliant two-time Cheltenham Festival winner last ran, having succumbed for the second time to long-term injury after finishing second in April last year to stablemate Un De Sceaux in Punchestown’s BoyleSports Champion Chase.
As the multiple champion trainer seeks to win Clonmel’s annual highlight for the fifth time in seven years, Douvan bids to follow the example set by Mullins’ Kemboy – who kicked off his hugely successful campaign by winning Thursday’s Grade Two first time out last year.
Douvan faces tough opposition, on his first attempt at this two-and-a-half-mile trip.
But the nine-year-old will be in receipt of up to 5lb in a field of five which also comprises the returning Monalee, from Henry de Bromhead’s stable, Jessica Harrington’s Jett, Noel Meade’s Tout Est Permis and the remarkable Peregrine Run.
Mullins said: “Clonmel is not the sort of place I envisaged Douvan going, but the conditions of the race suit – and he seems to be in nice form.
“We just need to get him back out and see how he is – I’m happy to let him take his chance.
“It’s nearly a victory to have him back and ready to run, coming from where we’ve been with him, and it’s good to start off in this type of race rather than go to Leopardstown first time out.”
Mullins acknowledges only racecourse evidence will indicate the level of Douvan’s continued capabilities.
He added: “I want to get a run into him, as long as he stays sound, and get him back to somewhere near his best.
“We think he’s going well but we thought a few others were this season – until they ran.
“I’ll be happy to finish sound and put up a good run – if he wins that is a bonus.
“He looks very well at home, but we’re not pressing too many buttons.”
Meade reports Tout Est Permis should improve for his first run of the season – a seven-and-a-half-length third behind surprise winner Jett in the Grade Three Irish Daily Star Chase at Punchestown last month.
The Tu Va trainer has yet to come to a firm conclusion about the optimum trip for the six-year-old, whose hat-trick last season came at different distances -from just marginally further than he faces here up to three miles.
He said: “I’ve no notion. But I’m hopeful – and he’s in good form, great form, I can tell you that.”
Assessing Tout Est Permis’ Punchestown performance over three miles one furlong, he added: “He ran well. I think he’ll come on a good bit with the run – he’ll need to.”
Meade is respectful of all four opponents, and wary of having to give weight to Douvan.
“It’s a good race, isn’t it?” he said.
“It’s a pity to have to give away the 5lb (to Douvan), but that’s the way it is.
“Peregrine Run gets a bit too, but I’m not sure about soft ground (for him).”
Trainer Peter Fahey admits the surface may not be ideal for his prolific winner – but he hopes Clonmel is the right place to risk it, before Peregrine Run takes a well-earned break over the winter.
He said: “Clonmel doesn’t get too heavy, so he’ll take his chance – he might get away with it there.
“If he’s going to anywhere, he might at Clonmel – it doesn’t get too deep.”
Peregrine Run has had a relative rest since taking his career victory count to 16, back over hurdles at Thurles three weeks ago.
Fahey added: “It’s a very competitive race. He has fitness on his side, but it’s a proper good race.
“Fingers crossed, he puts in a good run. He’s had a great season already – he’s had a freshen-up for it, then we’ll bring him back for the spring. I’d say this will be it until then.
“The ground wouldn’t be in his favour, but he’s in great form, he’s very fit – and he’s a credit to everyone involved in the yard.”