Sir Des Champs and a triumphant Davy Russell
©Healy Racing Photos
Next month's John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase promises to be a race to savour after Willie Mullins confirmed the Grade One contest as a probable starting point for Sir Des Champs.
The Gigginstown House Stud-owned six-year-old is ante-post favourite for this season's Cheltenham Gold Cup after going through his novice season unbeaten, winning at the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals in the spring.
However, his Gold Cup credentials look set to be given an early test at Punchestown on December 9, with Peter Casey's hugely talented Flemenstar also on course for the John Durkan after making a winning return in Sunday's Fortria Chase.
"I imagine we are gearing this year towards the Gold Cup. He'll probably start off in the John Durkan and he's entered in the King George, but he'll be entered in Leopardstown (the Lexus Chase) at Christmas, too," said Mullins.
The champion trainer believes Sir Des Champs' biggest asset heading into this season is that he is so settled, something that can prove crucial in long-distance chases.
"He's a lovely big horse, he's built to carry 12 stones over three miles which is ideally what you want in a chaser," Mullins told At The Races.
"I think the key to him is that he's so relaxed, I've never seen him at full strength or full speed, he just does what he has to do. That's just the way he is I think.
"We'll just plot a course as it comes between now and March, there are various races we can go for but we'll see how he gets through his first race and then plan the second one.
"I don't like having a map the whole way out, we'll take each day as it comes because you don't know what's going to happen from one day to the next.
"You might have to change plans, the horse might get sick, he might get lame, all sorts of things can happen which is why I prefer to take it one race at a time."