Minella Indo will bid to get his season back on track in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday.
Narrowly denied by Champ in a thrilling climax to the RSA Chase at Cheltenham last season, Henry de Bromhead’s charge was so impressive in winning his first two tarts of the current campaign he was clear favourite for the Savills Chase over the Irish Gold Cup course and distance.
The eight-year-old only made it as far as the eighth fence at the Christmas fixture before falling in a race won by his stablemate A Plus Tard – but with the latter heading straight to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Minella Indo is well fancied to reaffirm his own claims for the blue riband.
Rachael Blackmore will be in the saddle once again, on a horse she has plenty of affection for.
She said: “Minella Indo has been fantastic to me. He gave me my first Grade One in the Albert Bartlett in Cheltenham, which was an incredible day.
“We’re really looking forward to running him. It was unfortunate what happened to him in Leopardstown the last day, (but) he seems to have been very good since – I gave him a pop (over fences) last week and there seems to be no ill effects.
“It was just one of those things and we move on to the next day.”
Minella Indo will face a maximum of just four rivals in the feature event on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival – but still faces a far from straightforward task.
Willie Mullins, who has won the Irish Gold Cup on a record 10 occasions, is set to saddle both Kemboy and Melon, who finished second and third respectively behind A Plus Tard over the Christmas period.
Delta Work provided trainer Gordon Elliott with his first Irish Gold Cup when denying Kemboy 12 months ago. He is set to defend his crown, having unseated his rider when bidding for back-to-back Savills Chase wins.
Delta Work’s stablemate The Storyteller completes the quintet.
The Mullins-trained Monkfish is the star attraction in the preceding Flogas Novice Chase, a race in which his stablemate Faugheen brought the house down with victory 12 months ago.
Monkfish is a red-hot favourite to follow suit, while Mullins could also saddle Asterion Forlonge and Janidil.
Elliott’s Andy Dufresne and Paul Nolan’s Latest Exhibition head the opposition.
With Triumph Hurdle favourite Zanahiyr taken out, Elliott looks set to rely on the unbeaten Quilixios in the first Grade One of the afternoon, the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle.
Mullins is poised to saddle new recruit French Aseel, who was mightily impressive at the track in December before changing hands.
Mullins’ Appreciate It, ante-post favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, heads 19 remaining contenders for the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle.
The champion trainer also has Ganapathi and Mr Coldstone as part of his eight-strong team.