Willie Mullins feels testing conditions could give Back In Focus the edge over stable companion Boston Bob in tomorrow's Growise Champion Novice Chase at the Punchestown Festival.
Back In Focus stretched his unbeaten record over fences to four when giving the champion trainer’s son, Patrick, an emotional first Cheltenham Festival victory over fences in the four-mile National Hunt Chase last month.
Boston Bob won his first two starts over fences and may well have completed the hat-trick in Cheltenham’s RSA Chase but for falling at the final fence in the hands of Paul Townend.
The Graham Wylie-owned pair do battle over three miles and a furlong on Tuesday and Mullins admits he steered stable jockey Ruby Walsh towards riding Back In Focus, with Townend once again partnering his stablemate.
Mullins said: “To be honest, I put Ruby on Back In Focus as he’s done nothing wrong all year and they’ve already won a Grade One together.
“I think a lot of things will be in his favour. He’s won at the track and will love the ground.
“Boston Bob has been fine since Cheltenham. He’s won in ground deeper than this, but I think the ground will suit Back In Focus more.
“It’s not ideal to be running the two of them against each other, but there aren’t any other opportunities and it’s a Grade One race.”
Also double-handed is Dessie Hughes, who saddles Lyreen Legend and Tofino Bay.
Lyreen Legend was a close second in the RSA behind Lord Windermere, while Tofino Bay looked set to win the National Hunt Chase until being collared right on the line by Back In Focus.
Hughes said: “I think they both go there with chances and they’ll both love the ground.
“On Cheltenham form there isn’t much between our two and Willie’s two, and I think it will come down to who had a harder race at Cheltenham.
“Whichever one of them has come out of Cheltenham best will probably win the race.
“I’m happy with both of my horses and I’m hopeful they’ll both run very well.”
The Kim Bailey-trained Harry Topper is a fascinating challenger from Britain, having won his first three starts over fences before unseating Timmy Murphy at Kelso last time.
Bailey said: “I’m told he’s travelled over well and he’s in good form, so I’m happy.
“It looks like he’s got his ground, it’s going to be pretty soft, which is in his favour, and it’s a big day for him.
“I don’t know what happened at Kelso last time, but he schooled well for Jason (Maguire) last week.
“If he was going into Punchestown unbeaten and hadn’t blotted his copybook last time he’d be pretty well fancied, so we’ll see what happens.”
An eight-runner field is completed by Tony Martin’s Dedigout, the Gordon Elliott-trained Mount Benbulben and Argocat from Tom Taaffe’s yard.