Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite Vautour could take in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday ahead of his trip to Cheltenham in March.
The five-year-old is unbeaten after two starts for Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins, but was made to work hard by Western Boy when long odds-on at Punchestown in early January.
Owner Rich Ricci is anticipating considerable improvement from his youngster.
“I thought he looked very big (at Punchestown). I think he’ll come on for that run,” Ricci told At The Races.
“He’s only run twice and it would be nice to get another run into him. He’s a possibility for the Deloitte, where I’d like to see him go.
“I have a lot of confidence in him. I think he could be something special.”
Another Ricci-owned novice hurdler with Festival aspirations is Faugheen, who is three from three over timber this season.
The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle and the longer Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle appear his likely Festival options, with Ricci hinting the former could be the preferred choice.
He said: “He’s a horse we like a lot, he’s a horse that’s hard to keep straight. We struggled with that last year, but we’ve been very lucky this year and Willie has done a brilliant job.
“He certainly has toe, so I think two miles, two and a half miles will be good.
“He can get the three miles as he’s shown (but) he runs a bit free, that may be a concern.
“If we can keep him right, I think he’s got a great chance wherever he runs.”
Keen to split his aces, Faugheen’s possible Neptune participation could allow Ricci’s Clondaw Court to be his main candidate for the Albert Bartlett.
He was unimpressive at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, but won with his head in his chest at Thurles last month.
“He’s another one that’s been hard to keep right. He needed that run at Christmas, he was very impressive the last day,” said Ricci.
“He’s only had two runs and it would be nice to get another run into him. He’s seven, so he is getting on.
“He’s a horse I’m looking forward to seeing over fences, but something like the Bartlett would suit him.”
The odd one out among Ricci’s wealth of talent in the division could be Renneti, who fell when likely to score at Limerick in December.
The owner said: “I like Renneti. He ran a cracker in the Royal Bond and then fell when he was home and hosed over Christmas.
“I don’t know if he’ll be one for the (Cheltenham) team. I have a lot of confidence in him and he’s entered in a couple of races coming up.
“We’re very fortunate to have quite a few novice hurdlers, so we’ll have to see if he makes the team or not, but there are plenty of races at places like Fairyhouse, Aintree and Punchestown.”
Ricci meanwhile trusts Mullins to make the right call over which race the much debated Annie Power should contest at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
The six-year-old stretched her unbeaten record to 10 with another dominant display at Doncaster last weekend and is in the rare position of being considered a major contender for the Champion Hurdle over two miles and the World Hurdle over three.
With Mullins’ Hurricane Fly set to bid for a third Champion Hurdle victory, Annie Power could step up in distance and tackle Big Buck’s, but Ricci insists any decision will not be rushed.
“She’s in very good form. That’s the most important thing. She came back from Doncaster very well,” he said.
“We’re still five weeks away (from Cheltenham) and we haven’t sat down and talked about it. I have confidence in her over any trip, from two to three (miles) and we’ll have to see as we get closer.
“I am sensitive to Willie and the yard and one thing we won’t do is fall out over it. I’m friends with Willie and I’m friends with Ruby and I recognise the sense of history that’s going on, but I also know and trust Willie and Ruby will do the right thing for the horse and place her where she has the best chance of winning.
“We’ll run her where she has the best chance – against Hurricane Fly or Big Buck’s or whoever it is. A lot of things have to be factored in.”
Annie Power has yet to tackle three miles, but Ricci does not anticipate the longer distance being a problem if a World Hurdle bid is favoured.
He said: “We all think she’ll go further. In time we think she’ll be one for staying chases.
“I think she’d get the distance, but I don’t know whether she’s better or not. We’ll have to see.”
A third Cheltenham option for Annie Power is the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, but with stable companion Quevega set to bid for an incredible sixth successive win in that particular event, Ricci does not expect Annie Power to stand in her way.
“That’s kind of Quevega’s race. If something happened to Quevega, certainly that’s an option, but in my heart of hearts that wouldn’t be our preferred race, I don’t think,” he said.
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