On Saturday, Willie Mullins takes aim at Sandown’s Tingle Creek Chase with Gentleman de Mee, and has a couple of runners over the National fences in Aintree, but his primary focus is still likely to be on a maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse.
That’s because Facile Vega is set to get his jumping career off to a long-awaited start with the sky apparently the limit on his potential.
When Mullins says he hasn’t been as excited by a horse in years it’s time for even those with merely a passing interest in the game to sit up and take notice.
Unbeaten in four bumper starts last season, the son of Quevega exhibited both class and grit to become just the third horse to pull off the festival championship double at Cheltenham and Punchestown.
If that bumper supremacy didn’t subsequently work out for either Cousin Vinny or the ill-fated Fayonagh, it hasn’t stopped layers already making Facile Vega as short as 9-4 for Supreme Hurdle glory at Cheltenham in March.
Saturday’s task may be no easy introduction either. Gordon Elliott’s An Mhi fell on his last start but the newcomer Arctic Bresil was an expensive purchase off the point to point circuit and is highly regarded by the Henry De Bromhead team.
Mullins’s Viva Devito had a good run behind Facile Vega at Punchestown and goes in the other maiden hurdle division while the ex-Nicky Henderson trained I Am Maximus is an interesting recruit to chasing in the opener.
Aidan Coleman partners Gentleman de Mee for the first time in an intriguing Tingle Creek that has got the top cross-channel challengers to Energumene’s two-mile crown in one pre-Christmas spot.
Most intriguing of the lot will be Shishkin, conqueror of Energuemene at Ascot in January but pulled up subsequently in a disastrous Champion Chase outing.
A rare bone condition was diagnosed and this will be Shishkin’s first outing since Cheltenham.
“If he is back to that [defeating Energumene at Ascot] we will be very competitive, I hope,” trainer Nicky Henderson reported. “That, I can’t guarantee as we obviously had a mega problem after Cheltenham, but I am confident that [bone condition] is behind us.”
Pat Fahy’s Dunvegan also lines up for Ireland in the Tingle Creek.
The Mullins pair, Recite A Prayer and Captain Kangaroo, are among four Irish hopefuls in the Becher Chase at Aintree. There has been no Irish winner of the race since Vic Venturi won for the last Dessie Hughes in 2009.