Don Poli spearheads Willie Mullins’ challenge

Willie Mullins is responsible for seven of the 17 entries for the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on February 6.
Don Poli spearheads Willie Mullins’ challenge

Lexus winner Don Poli appears to be his main contender as Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Djakadam, who has also been given the option, is due to head to Cheltenham for his prep run later this month.

Sir Des Champs, winner of this event in 2013, is also among Mullins’ team.

Gordon Elliott has entered Don Cossack, but he would be an unlikely starter, as well as Roi Du Mee.

The maroon silks of Gigginstown could also be represented by the Noel Meade-trained duo of Road To Riches and Wounded Warrior.

Carlingford Lough provided Tony McCoy with a popular success last season and he could bid for back-to-back wins for John Kiely, with Gilgamboa another possible for JP McManus.

Paul Nicholls has enjoyed success in the race in the past with Neptune Collonges in 2009 and has entered Virak this year.

Ted Walsh’s Foxrock, runner-up last year, and the Mouse Morris-trained First Lieutenant are other notable entries.

Meanwhile, Vautour tops a record 22 Irish entries for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival on March 17.

The two-mile-five-furlong heat has attracted a total of 48 entries, but the Mullins-trained Vautour is the headline-grabbing name, although he is also entered in both the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Mullins has a wealth of options in the race, with former Festival scorers Champagne Fever and Sir Des Champs, as well as Punchestown Grade One winner Valseur Lido and exciting mare Vroum Vroum Mag featuring among the initial entries.

Gigginstown has eight entries, with Don Cossack and Road To Riches possible runners — though both horses are more likely to run in the Gold Cup.

The British team is led by Alan King’s Hennessy hero Smad Place and the Dan Skelton-trained Al Ferof.

Village Vic, a dual course-and-distance winner this season, is one of three entries for Philip Hobbs, while Paul Nicholls has four contenders, led by Vibrato Valtat and Sound Investment.

Meanwhile, Un De Sceaux and previous winners Sprinter Sacre, Sire De Grugy and Dodging Bullets feature amongst 23 entries for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Un De Sceaux was an impressive winner of the Arkle last March but the ante-post favourite has only been seen once this season, when he fell at Leopardstown.

Mullins has also entered Champagne Fever, Felix Yonger, Mozoltov, Twinlight and Vautour.

Sprinter Sacre won the Champion Chase by 19 lengths in 2013 and, despite his well-documented issues, has looked rejuvenated this term. He could be joined in the line-up by Nicky Henderson-trained stablemates Captain Conan, Josses Hill and Simonsig.

Sire De Grugy was a popular winner in 2014 and has also returned to something like his best this term, while last year’s hero Dodging Bullets has yet to be seen in this campaign.

Paul Nicholls’ eight-year-old is now back in training after a setback and is on course to make his return next month, according to big-race jockey Sam Twiston-Davies.

“I think he’s been a little bit forgotten because he hasn’t been seen this season but hopefully he’ll be back at Newbury (Game Spirit),” Twiston-Davies said.

“I know Harry Derham (work rider) is very happy with him, he’s making some good inroads which is great.

“With a view to the Champion Chase, he beat everything put in front of him last year and he’s one we’re really looking forward to getting back on the track.

“We want to get a prep run in and then turn up fresh and well.”

Special Tiara, placed last year for Henry de Bromhead, God’s Own and Somersby are also in the mix.

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