Leading Irish trainer Willie Mullins has yet to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but could Djakadam be the one to give him a first success in chasing’s Blue Riband?
Mullins has trained 33 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, but is still searching for that elusive first one in the Gold Cup.
Last season, Mullins came about as close as you could to winning the race when On His Own was beaten by a short head by Lord Windermere, who survived a stewards’ inquiry to keep the race.
It is fair to say that, on the surface, Djakadam looks to have a touch more class than On His Own. What he lacks, though, is experience.
Djakadam provided Mullins with a record sixth win in the Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park in January on only his fifth start over fences.
He carried top weight to victory in the race and all roads now lead to Cheltenham.
“That race will take a fair bit out of him so he wouldn’t run between now and Cheltenham,” said Mullins after the Thyestes. “Whether he’s strong enough this year I don’t know, but he’s certainly that type of individual.”
On His Own won the same race last year, having also been successful in 2012. Interestingly, On His Own won off a mark 3lbs lower 12 months ago than the one Djakadam won off. On His Own then won a Grade Two at Fairyhouse before his agonising second in the Gold Cup off a mark of 161.
It is doubtful that Djakadam will be raised 16lbs for his win in the Thyestes, so he does have something to find, both at the weights and in the formbook.
He has yet to show the same level of form as current Gold Cup favourite Silviniaco Conti, or the past two winners of the race – Bobs Worth and Lord Windermere.
There is also the fact that Djakadam is only six. Long Run, a French-bred horse like Djakadam, was the last six-year-old to win the Gold Cup when taking the race in 2011.
But you have to go back to 1963 when Mill House won for the previous occasion a six-year-old won the Gold Cup.
Long Run also had a bit more experience over fences having also run in France before joining the Nicky Henderson yard.
Djakadam ran just three times as a novice, winning a Grade Two before falling in the JLT Novices’ Chase at last season’s Festival.
His jockey Ruby Walsh isn’t too concerned about that fall, though, with regards to Djakadam’s prospects of returning to Cheltenham as a success.
Prior to the Thyestes, the only other run for Djakadam this season came in the Hennessey Gold Cup at Newbury, where he was sent off favourite.
He finished eighth behind another Cheltenham contender Many Clouds after travelling well through the race.
Though some pointed to a lack of stamina for his failure to be involved in the finish, Mullins was inclined to blame a lack of fitness for the result.
If Mullins has yet to make it into the winner’s enclosure in the Gold Cup, then Djakadam’s jockey has that experience.
Walsh won twice aboard Kauto Star, who was another precociously French-bred chaser.
There is still some way to go for Djakadam to be placed in the same bracket as the likes of Long Run and Kauto Star.
But there doesn’t seem to be a horse of their class in the likely line-up for this year’s Gold Cup.
Djakadam has the potential. It is a question of whether that is going to be enough against the battle-hardened experience of the likes of Lord Windermere and The Giant Bolster to give Mullins his first Gold Cup success.