Cheltenham Festival absentees Energumene and Latest Exhibition are among 12 confirmations for the Underwriting Exchange Novice Chase at Fairyhouse.
Having completed a hat-trick of wins over fences with a dominant display in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown in February, the Willie Mullins-trained Energumene appeared all set for a fascinating clash with Shishkin in this month’s Arkle itself.
The seven-year-old disappointingly missed out on an appearance in the Cotswolds after suffering a setback the week beforehand, but compensation may await in Sunday’s two-and-a-half-mile Grade One.
Mullins has also kept in Asterion Forlonge, Franco De Port and Janidil – while Paul Nolan specifically sidestepped Cheltenham with Latest Exhibition to wait for the Easter Festival at Fairyhouse.
However, as well as being confirmed for a race formerly known as the Powers Gold Cup, he also has the option of running in the BoyleSports Irish Grand National on Monday – with a decision on which race he will contest yet to be made.
Nolan said: “We’re just going to give ourselves the option.
“It looks to be a fine week, with a few showers towards the weekend, so I think the ground is going to be beautiful.
“We have to decide on Friday morning, so we’ll see.”
Other contenders for Sunday’s feature event include Denise Foster’s pair of Andy Dufresne and Conflated.
Grade One honours are also up for grabs in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final earlier in the afternoon.
Echoes In Rain, Gauloise and Royal Illusion are part of a seven-strong Mullins squad, with Shark Hanlon’s bargain buy Skyace – fourth in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham – also one of 21 possibles.
Ronan McNally’s stable star Dreal Deal is entered for both of the two Grade Two races on the card – the Paddy Kehoe Suspended Ceilings Novice Hurdle and the Colm Quinn BMW Novice Hurdle.
However, he is not certain to line up in either, having missed the Cheltenham Festival because of aspergillosis – a reaction caused by a form of mould.
McNally said: “He’s not 100 per cent quite yet – but he’s getting there, I think.
“If we go to Fairyhouse he’d have a Grade Two penalty, so I’ll probably aim for Aintree to be honest because it will give us more time as well.
“He’s entered in all the Grade Ones over two miles, two and a half and three. Aintree is sharp enough, so I would be looking at the two-four and three-miler – but I wouldn’t discount the two-miler.
“His form over two miles is very good, so we’ll have a look and see what is the weakest race. There weren’t many runners at Cheltenham in the novice races, and those that ran will have had hard races.
“I think we’ll run in the weakest race if I’m honest.
“It was a shame to miss Cheltenham – but we wouldn’t have beaten Appreciate It, so second would have been the best we could hope for. It might not have done us any harm not going, and it gives us a fighting chance for Aintree.”
McNally has an entry in the Randox Grand National in the shape of Thyestes Chase winner The Jam Man – but he is in a similar situation.
“With The Jam Man, he’s just not quite there yet either,” he said.
“We’ve 12 days. He is coming, but he’s not there yet.”