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All options open for VautourPosted on Monday 21st December 2015 @ 08.43

It will be far from a disaster if Vautour fails to stay three miles in the King George VI Chase at Kempton.

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Vautour is one of Mullins stable stars and has made a number of people significantly wealthier over the past few seasons.

His win in the 2014 Supreme Novices' Hurdle was a destructive performance, decimating the likes of Josses Hill, Vaniteux and Irving.

One year later, he found himself in the winner's enclosure once again and this time he was even more impressive.

The JLT Novices' Chase saw Vautour produce a foot-perfect round of jumping via a confident front-running ride under Ruby Walsh as the gelding cruised to a 15-length victory, beating a host of Grade 1 and 2 winners, including stablemate Valseur Lido and Apache Stronghold.

The sight of Vautour taking off on the home straight will remain in Cheltenham Festival history for years to come. The exuberance and accuracy of his jumping had even those who've been in the sport for years in disbelief and, following the victory, many believed they'd already seen the 2016 Gold Cup winner.

Mullins and owner Rich Ricci were not denying that Vautour was a lively contender for the Blue Riband of the Festival the following year and that still remains his principal target.

However, have conclusions been drawn too soon?

Bookmakers have Vautour at the forefront of the betting in the Gold Cup, as well in the Ryanair Chase and he's also best-priced 10/1 for the Champion Chase.

Stamina doubts surround the six-year-old, who has still not stepped up to three miles.

Vautour will have his first run at the trip on Boxing Day in the King George VI Chase at Kempton. It looks a highly competitive affair this year; in fact, the staying chasing division as a whole is stacked with plenty of leading protagonists, even without Coneygree.

Mullins and Ricci already have Djakadam, whose season will revolve around the Gold Cup. He was highly impressive in the Grade 1 John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown on his seasonal reappearance and, given his battling second in the Gold Cup last year, it's clear he stays all day.

If Vautour flatters to deceive in the King George, much like he did on his seasonal debut when winning in workmanlike fashion in the 1965 Chase at Ascot, all hope will not be lost.

The Gold Cup could be a real stamina test this term. Don Poli is a true stayer, Don Cossack was not stopping in the Punchestown Gold Cup nor the JnWine Champion Chase, and Cue Card looks a revitalised horse this term since his wind operation and has a formidable record at Cheltenham.

It may be a case that Mullins' charge will not stay in the King George, but that is far from a disaster. In fact, it could be a blessing in disguise.

The Ryanair isn't the most prestigious of races to win, although it's a highly competitive affair in its own right.

Having won the Supreme and his chasing debut at two miles, there seems no such reason why Vautour would not be a solid adversary for the Champion Chase.

The two-mile chase division is wide open this term. Un De Sceaux, also trained by Mullins, heads the market. Since falling on his debut over larger obstacles, the son of Denham Red has been unbeaten and won three Grade 1s, including the Arkle Chase at the Festival.

Nonetheless, Un De Sceaux looks far from unbeatable. The Arkle he won wasn't all that competitive and his performance the next month at Punchestown showed there are chinks in the gelding's armour.

In all of his races over fences, Un De Sceaux has had it pretty much all his own way out in front. He's been allowed to dictate and set the pace, and his jumping has never been put to the test.

We saw in the JLT how flawless Vautour's jumping from the front was. He looks like he could really put his stablemate to the test and force errors out of Un De Sceaux. Having raced over two-and-a-half miles, he could potentially make the Champion Chase a real war of attrition.

He also possesses a deadly turn of foot that can see him fly past even the best of horses. Overall, he's a well-rounded horse.

Sprinter Sacre looked almost back to his best in the Grade 2 Shloer Chase at Cheltenham in November, likewise Sire De Grugy in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek at Sandown earlier this month. However, both are still fully unconvincing given their well-documented injury problems and Dodging Bullets has also had setbacks this term.

With a wide-open division, it could well be worth Mullins and Ricci sitting down to assess how realistic Vautour's chances of winning the Gold Cup really are.

Let's not forget, he's only just turning seven and, although in time he may get three miles, he's still maturing and, if he does fail to see out the King George trip, it is by no means the end of his season.

[Will Rooney]

Article Posted on Monday 21st December 2015 @ 08.43

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