Douvan defied a 569-day absence to win the Clonmel Oil Chase on his long-awaited return to action for Willie Mullins.
Once the highest-rated chaser in training, the Rich Ricci-owned gelding has been difficult to keep sound since picking up an injury in the 2017 Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
Running for the first time since the Boylesports Champion Chase at Punchestown in April 2018, the nine-year-old was having his first try at two and a half miles in the hands of Paul Townend.
While he was suited by the race conditions in getting weight from each of his rivals, he travelled with his old elan and Townend eventually gave up the battle of trying to hold him and allowed him to stride on after halfway.
When he met a fence on a long stride he took lengths out of his rivals and although Monalee closed up before the turn for home, Townend had only given him a breather and Douvan strode clear in the straight.
His jump at the last was not perfect, but those who sent him off the 4-5 favourite never had much cause for concern.
Mullins said: “I was delighted – the pace was too slow and he was keen until he hit the sixth fence. Then Paul thought he was getting too lazy and woke him up going across the top and was happy with him in front.
“When he met them right he was able to ping them and when he was wrong he left him paddle them and was fine.
“Paul thought he idled in front, but was very happy getting off him, I was very happy and visually what I saw, I liked. It didn’t look that he needed to go up in trip – I would have thought to come back in trip.
“To me he looks to have a lot of the speed that he had before.”
Looking to future plans, Mullins said: “I imagine Christmas will be fine (for his next run) and I’m happy to have him here today and to finish well and we’ll have to see how he comes out of the race over the next few days.
“Chacun Pour Soi has to run yet and I’m not making any plans, but I am delighted he put in that performance today. I wouldn’t be looking for three miles after that performance and what he showed me today was he is more at home at a shorter trip.
“I’m much happier today than I have been for the past 569 days and I was happy to get here and to run. If he finished second or third we could build on that, but he came out today and did way more than I expected, so he looked like the old Douvan.”
Mullins had to settle for second in the T.A. Morris Memorial Irish EBF Mares Chase with Listen Dear, who was no match for Gordon Elliott’s 4-7 favourite Shattered Love.
Mark Walsh was in the plate and said: “She felt great today, travelled and jumped great everywhere. It was fairly plain sailing and she was well in at the weights – it would have been disappointing if she didn’t win.
“That drop down in grade will do her confidence the world of good and she had a tough year last year in all the big races. Hopefully that will do her confidence good and she can go forward from that.
However, the champion trainer did enjoy a four-timer on the day, and kept it in the family in the process.
Firstly his son, Patrick, partnered Kalanisi Og (1-4 favourite) to victory in the Connolly’s Red Mills Irish EBF Mares Auction Maiden Hurdle.
Explaining why he rode the odds-on shot and not stable jockey Townend, Mullins said: “Thanks to the boys (owners, Lions Mouth Racing Club) and to Paul for letting me ride the mare.
“I know the owners quite well and a winner now is the same as a winner in April towards the (amateur) championship so it was no harm to take it when the chance was there.”
Danny Mullins was then on Vis Ta Loi (3-1 favourite) in the I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Maiden Hurdle, making all before Patrick ended the day as it began for the yard by winning the bumper on Tactical Move (4-5 favourite).