Willie Mullins could fire a formidable twin assault on Ascot’s major Saturday prizes after Faugheen and Ballycasey were confirmed for the Coral Ascot Hurdle and the Amlin 1965 Chase.
Mullins sent top-class mare Annie Power across the Irish Sea to land the Coral Ascot Hurdle 12 months ago and has this year entered the unbeaten Faugheen, ante-post favourite for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham next March.
The six-year-old is one of 11 entries for the Grade Two, with Gordon Elliott’s smart dual-purpose performer Bayan another potential Irish raider.
“I’ll go through the entries for the Ascot race before making a final decision but the intention is to run Faugheen on Saturday,” said Mullins. “It looks a nice race in which to start off his season.”
Other possible runners include John Quinn’s Aurore D’Estruval, the Paul Nicholls-trained Lac Fontana and Jeremy Scott’s stable star Melodic Rendezvous.
Melodic Rendezvous also holds an entry at Haydock on Saturday – as does Aurore D’Estruval – but plans remain fluid for the former.
Ballycasey, a Grade One winner over fences as a novice last season, is among 11 horses in contention for the Amlin.
Nicholls has entered last year’s winner Al Ferof and Bury Parade, while Wishfull Thinking is a potential starter for man-of-the-moment Philip Hobbs.
Nicky Henderson could saddle French Opera and Rajdhani Express, with Nicky Richards having also confirmed Eduard.
Fox Appeal, Grey Gold, Pepite Rose and Somersby also feature.
Meanwhile, Noel Meade is at a loss to explain Cheltenham Festival hero Very Wood’s abject display at Punchestown on Sunday.
The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle winner was a hot favourite for the Grade Two Florida Pearl Novice Chase, having made a victorious start to his career over fences at Galway at the end of October.
However, he was in trouble a long way out in the hands of Bryan Cooper, who eventually pulled the Gigginstown-owned five-year-old up at the top of the home straight.
Meade said: “The vet checked him out after the race and he seemed fine.
“He blew a bit for a horse that was pulled up, but we scoped him and that’s come back clean, so it’s all a bit of a mystery.
“The horses are in good form and I was very happy with him going into the race.
“To be honest, if you’d asked me going into the weekend what my best chance of a winner was I would have said him, but, for whatever reason, he had an off-day.
“He definitely won’t run in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse (on Sunday week) and I would say we’ll wait until Christmas and run him then.”
The County Meath-based trainer enjoyed a much better result in the Craddockstown Novice Chase after Chancol ran out a decisive winner.
“He was good and jumped great and the thing about Chancol is he’s a horse who will hopefully only improve,” said Meade. “He’s not a horse we’ve over-race and he’s still got a lot of strengthening up to do, so we were delighted with how it went.
“He’ll have an easy two weeks now and we’ll see where we are, but Christmas time would be the closest you’d run him again.”
Little King Robin will race back amongst her own sex at Leopardstown over the Festive period after finishing an honourable third in Sunday’s Morgiana Hurdle.
Having clinched her seventh victory of 2014 in last month’s WKD Hurdle at Down Royal, the six-year-old tested her powers at the highest level at Punchestown against reigning Champion Hurdle hero Jezki and the brilliant Hurricane Fly.
Hurricane Fly bounced back to his best to claim an astonishing 20th Grade One victory, fighting off Jezki in a thrilling finish, while Little King Robin eventually faded having adopted her customary front-running role.
Trainer Colin Bowe is rightly proud of his stable star’s efforts.
He said: “She didn’t leave a nut last night and she’s absolutely fine this morning. She’s good and she’s fresh and we’re delighted with her.
“She won’t do anything now for two or two and a half weeks and then we’ll get her ready for the mares’ race at Leopardstown at Christmas.
“You don’t qualify if you’ve won a Grade One, so we’ll avoid the likes of Annie Power and Glens Melody, which is good.”
Last year’s winner Cue Card heads a select list of nine horses confirmed for the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday.
Colin Tizzard’s stable star may renew rivalry with Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti, a respective second and third in the Grade One 12 months ago.
The New One is among seven left at the confirmation stage for the first running of the Betfair Price Rush Hurdle at Haydock on Saturday.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved