Willie Mullins fields three as he goes in search of a 10th victory in the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown on Saturday.
Given that last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite Klassical Dream currently heads the betting for the Champion Hurdle in March, he starts the season as the yard’s main hope for top honours in the two-mile division.
However, Mullins also fields last year's race winner in Sharjah, who went on to follow up in the Ryanair Hurdle, and the returning Saldier, with both sporting the Rich Ricci silks.
The latter starts this term as an unknown quantity having won a Grade One as a juvenile, but he has not been seen since falling when on the verge of beating eventual Champion Hurdle winner Espoir D’Allen at Naas almost a year ago.
Mullins has won every renewal since Solwhit’s second success in 2010, and insists it was an easy decision to keep Klassical Dream over timber.
“He was probably showing us more at home [than other Supreme winners]. I think he’s ready, we’re happy enough – he seems to do plenty at home and we’ve been aiming him at this race,” said Mullins.
“It was an easy decision to stay over hurdles – for me anyway. It’s easier to keep them sound over hurdles. I think it [Champion Hurdle] does [look open] and I think if you have a horse that looks like a Champion Hurdle horse, you should go down this road, rather than novice chasing.
“With Saldier we go back to the last hurdle in Naas where he fell – he had every chance there. He broke his nose quite badly and took a long time to recover. His nose was shattered – it wasn’t just a fracture across, it broke into half a dozen pieces or more maybe.
“We had the option of operating, but I said no because my only other experience of something similar was with Briar Hill, and he needed three or four and by the time it healed he was finished, so we left it to heal.
“I wasn’t really happy with him at the end of last year, but I’m much happier now. I think he’s back to normal and back in good shape.
“Sharjah’s also ready to go to. All three run because the only other option is the Fighting Fifth and I’m happier to go just up the road.”
Under the bonnet
Paul Townend will be on Klassical Dream, and having won a maiden hurdle on him at Leopardstown last season he knows what is under the bonnet.
“I loved him when I won on him at Leopardstown last season,” said Townend. “He made a mess of the last hurdle and he galloped away to the line again. He always showed us at home that he was a bit above average. The Morgiana Hurdle fits in nicely to his season, and it’s a good place to start.”
Having been Ruby Walsh’s understudy for many years, Townend has assumed prime position following Walsh’s retirement, but he did ride three-time winner Hurricane Fly in the race in 2009.
“I actually got beat on Hurricane Fly in the Morgiana Hurdle by Solwhit,” Townend recalled.
“Klassical Dream is a completely different horse. Hurricane Fly was a flat horse with loads of speed, whereas Klassical Dream is more of a National Hunt type, probably more like Faugheen. If Klassical Dream can do half of what either Hurricane Fly or Faugheen did, he wouldn’t be doing a bad job!
“But in this game we are always looking for potential and the potential is there with Klassical Dream, and I’m really looking forward to Punchestown at the weekend.”
Henry de Bromhead’s Petit Mouchoir and the seemingly outclassed Yaha Fizz complete the five-runner field.