With the 22-times Grade One winner being saved by trainer Willie Mullins for Punchestown, Arctic Fire attempts to open his account at the highest level after a string of valiant efforts.
The progressive six-year-old has been placed in a succession of top races and after twice finishing behind Hurricane Fly in both the Ryanair and Irish Champion Hurdles at Leopardstown he had the great horse back in third when runner-up to another stable companion, Faugheen, in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
“He’s been in good form since Cheltenham so we decided to let him take his chance,” said Mullins.
“I just felt we should keep Hurricane Fly for Punchestown as he’s always good there.
“It’s Arctic Fire’s first time over the trip (two and a half miles), but the way he was coming up that hill at Cheltenham, you would be hoping he’ll stay. We’ll find out on Thursday.
“I still can’t see a rib on him. He’s an exceptional horse and I still think there is a lot of improvement in him.”
While it is no certainty the step up to two and a half miles will suit, jockey Ruby Walsh is optimistic he will stay.
“The trip is an unknown but the way he came home at Cheltenham you would have to be hopeful,” said Walsh.
Jezki was behind Arctic Fire when fourth in defence of his crown at Cheltenham and connections admit it looks a tall order for the Jessica Harrington-trained seven-year-old.
“He seems in good form. Jessie’s happy with him,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner J P McManus.
“He has a bit of ground to make up on Arctic Fire. It will be very hard to turn the tables round, but we’ll hope for the best. Arctic Fire is the one to beat and is sure to be hard to turn over.”
Harry Fry expects a bold showing from Rock On Ruby. “Obviously we were forced to bypass Cheltenham, but the distance of this race is perfect for us,” said Fry.
“He’s run very well in it in the past, not least last year when he was denied a head by The New One.
“He seems to be right back on his ’A’ game. I couldn’t be happier with him. We go there full of confidence.
“It’s a very tough race, as you’d expect for a Grade One. It will be fascinating and I’m looking forward to it.”