Fairyhouse hat-trick beckons for Mullins


Just 23 horses remain in contention to line up for Sunday’s Grade One prizes at Fairyhouse’s “Winter Festival” which provides Willie Mullins with an opportunity to land a lucrative hat-trick.

It is a couple of years since the champion trainer came within a whisker of landing all three Grade One races at Ireland’s most prestigious pre-Christmas National Hunt meeting. And once again he is attacking them in strength.

The dual-French Champion Hurdle winner Thousand Stars heads a trio of Mullins entries among the eight left in the €80,000 Bar One Racing Hatton’s Grace Hurdle.

It will be a first attempt at the 2½ mile feature for the teak-tough grey who has run just once since his summer exploits at Auteuil, finishing fourth to Captain Cee Bee at Tipperary early last month.

He is joined by Zaidpour, who hasn’t run at all since finishing fifth to his stable companion in the Grande Course D’Haies d’Auteuil, and the promising So Young.

As expected last year’s winner Voler La Vedette is back again while Noel Meade has left in Monksland and Edward O’Grady, a Hatton’s Grace winner with Catch Me in 2008, has Staying Article among the possibles lining up.

Thousand Stars was disputing antepost favouritism with Voler La Vedette in some lists last evening, including Paddy Power who make the mare their 2 to 1 favourite with Thousand Stars on 9 to 4.

Hurricane Fly landed the Hatton’s Grace at 2010’s weather-ravaged festival en-route to Champion Hurdle glory at Cheltenham while at the same meeting Zaidpour scored in the Royal Bond Novices Hurdle.

Only Mikael D’Haguenet’s last-fence fall in the Drinmore Novice Chase looked to prevent a Mullins clean sweep that day and two years on Mikael D’Haguenet could get the chance to atone for that mishap.

Along with the lightly raced Arvika Ligeonniere, the former Cheltenham festival hero is among eight left in the Drinmore as he tries to secure some better luck in what has been a fraught seven-race career to date over fences.

Mullins and De Bromhead

Mikael D’Haguenet’s misfortune even extended to his recent reappearance at Punchestown where a mistake at the last brought him to a virtual standstill and cost him victory.

The Mullins duo face a tough task against Dedigout and the unbeaten Buckers Bridge, who represents Co Waterford trainer Henry De Bromhead.

“Buckers Bridge was perhaps fortunate to win the last day (against Sword Of Destiny) but we were delighted that he did,” said De Bromhead yesterday. “I would love to run him in an ordinary novice chase but there’s not many opportunities. He’s in good form; I’ll talk to the owner, but I would think he’ll run.”

Mullins and De Bromhead could also clash in the Royal Bond but the champion trainer is very much the one to beat with three of the seven left in.

They are headed by the champion bumper performer Champagne Fever who made a winning debut over flights at Cork earlier in the month.

De Bromhead has Clonbannon Lad entered and said: “He seems in really good form. He worked well this morning and we’re looking forward to Sunday.”

Ground conditions

Dessie Hughes is pondering running the 2011 Irish Cesarewitch hero Minsk while Jessica Harrington has left in Jezki.

Unlike 2010, when the festival was postponed on five occasions, eventually run off 17 days late, no problems are anticipated weather-wise this time.

Although ground conditions were “heavy” yesterday, a dry cold week is forecast with no extremes, such as in 2006 when storm-force winds forced cancellation after two races. The remainder were run off three days later.

Racing will open on Sunday with the Juvenile Hurdle and a possible appearance by Dermot Weld’s decent flat performer Diplomat. One of the likely favourites though is Our Conor who made a winning debut over flights for Dessie Hughes.

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