Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott on collision course

Willie Mullins has three potential runners as he bids to continue his dominance of the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

READY TO FLY: Davy Russell steers Commander Of Fleet to victory at Punchestown in November. A non-runner at Naas last Sunday, Commander Of Fleet could now take his chance in Sunday’s Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown. Picture: Healy Racing

The champion trainer has claimed this prize in seven of the last 10 years, first striking gold with Mikael D’Haguenet in 2009.

Mikael D’Haguenet went on to win at the Cheltenham Festival on his next start, a feat repeated by two other Mullins stars in Vautour (2014) and Douvan (2015), who both landed this event on their way to landing the spoils in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park.

The Mullins-trained Min won at Punchestown in 2016 before finishing second to Altior in the Festival curtain-raiser, while Getabird was favourite for the Supreme after winning 12 months ago, but disappointed.

This year Mullins has entered Buildmeupbuttercup, Prince D’Aubrelle, and Harrie.

Buildmeupbuttercup was a smart bumper performer for Mick Channon and made a winning hurdling debut for Mullins in a Navan maiden hurdle last month.

Prince D’Aubrelle won three bumpers in 2015, but was sidelined for three years before winning on his first start over hurdles at Tipperary last May and has been off the track since.

Harrie, who carries the colours of the Supreme Horse Racing Club, was beaten at long odds-on on his Irish debut in a Down Royal bumper last year, but made a successful reappearance in a Tramore maiden hurdle last month, just holding the late surge of stablemate Buck’s Billionaire.

Gordon Elliott has never previously won the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle, but appears intent on breaking his duck on Sunday, the Cullentra maestro responsible for eight of the 14 entries.

The Gigginstown House Stud-owned octet includes Commander Of Fleet — a non-runner in the Grade One Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle last Sunday.

Elliott said: “We’ve made plenty of entries for Sunday’s race and we’ll just see how things go later in the week.

“It was a pity Commander Of Fleet had to miss the Grade One at Naas on Sunday, but I’m looking forward to getting him back to the track and he could easily go to Punchestown this weekend. I’d say we’ll definitely run a couple in the race and Felix Desjy is another that could go there.”

Jessica Harrington could saddle Press Conference — who defeated the Mullins-trained Annamix at Limerick over Christmas — as well as Jetez.

Harrington said: “Press Conference is in terrific form since his win at Limerick and I would love to run him in the Moscow Flyer Hurdle at the weekend, but I’m just waiting for some rain to arrive.

“Jetez will definitely run.”

Meanwhile, Champion Hurdle outsider Espoir D’Allen will have his next outing in the Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas on January 27.

Gavin Cromwell’s stable star took his record over timber to six victories from seven outings when winning at Limerick last month, with his only defeat coming in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle last February, after which he was found to have a problem and missed the rest of the season.

While Triumph Hurdle winner Farclas fell in the Grade Three Espoir D’Allen won recently, he did comfortably account for Willie Mullins’ mare Stormy Ireland, rated 145 and in receipt of 9lb.

“He’ll probably go for the Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas on the 27th of this month,” said Cromwell.

“He was impressive at Limerick but it’s hard to know if Willie’s mare ran up to her mark, you really don’t know.

“She’s the only one to take a guide off really because Farclas fell, but you’d still have to be happy with the way he did it, he did everything well.

“It’s too early to think about spring targets, we’ll just get the Limestone Lad out of the way and then I’ll talk to Frank (Berry, racing manager) and JP (McManus, owner) and make a plan as we go along, we won’t be rushing.

“He’s six out of seven over hurdles now, he’s definitely good.”


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