Bellshill bids to throw down the gauntlet to Yanworth in today’s Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown.
The Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old has won each of his three starts over hurdles so far this season, completing his hat-trick in Grade One company at Naas last month.
Mullins has already confirmed the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle as his likely target at the Cheltenham Festival, a race for which he is currently second-favourite behind Alan King’s Yanworth, who blew his rivals away at Prestbury Park last weekend.
The champion trainer’s son and assistant, Patrick Mullins, said: “Bellshill seems to have improved a lot from last season. Going jumping seems to have helped him and he looks to have got quicker as well.
“When I rode him in bumpers he was a galloper, but he has a turn of foot now.
“I thought Yanworth was very impressive at Cheltenham last weekend. He must be a very good horse to do what he did to those good horses.
“We’re hoping for a big performance from our fellow on Saturday, but I think whatever he does, he’ll be better in March.”
Mullins has saddled the last three winners of this two-and-a-quarter-mile contest, with subsequent Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winners Champagne Fever and Vautour striking gold before Nichols Canyon was victorious 12 months ago.
Bellshill is one of three runners for the all-conquering team in this year’s renewal and while he is clearly the stable’s number one hope, Mullins junior believes both Petit Mouchoir and Bleu Et Rouge should not be discounted after finishing third and fourth respectively behind stable companion Long Dog over Christmas.
“The other two are very good horses as well. They’re maybe not as sexy as Bellshill and for that reason I think they’ve gone under the radar,” said Mullins.
Both Petit Mouchoir and Bleu Et Rouge have ground to make up on Gordon Elliott’s Tombstone, who was runner-up to Long Dog in December.
Elliott said: “Tombstone is in great form. We’re really excited about running him; it’s going to be a great race.”
Edward Harty’s Coney Island completes a small but select field of five runners.
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