The prospect of rain later this week may disappoint many, but it will be music to the ears of Gordon Elliott as the season's leading trainer hopes to run his new recruit Don Poli in Saturday's €140,000 Grade One feature at Down Royal.
The JNwine Champion Chase is the first top-flight prize of the National Hunt season and last season Elliott saddled Don Cossack to win it en route to what was ultimately a momentous Gold Cup-winning campaign.
Don Cossack is set to return to full training after his leg injury problems this week but more immediately it is another Michael O’Leary “Don” who is focusing Elliott’s thoughts.
The 2015 RSA winner Don Poli finished third to Don Cossack in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last March and was part of the large contingent removed by O'Leary's Gigginstown Stud team from Willie Mullins over a training fees dispute and placed with the champion trainer's great rival.
They also included the brilliant hurdler Apple’s Jade, described by Mullins as the best juvenile he has trained. She could also take advantage of any ease in ground conditions at Down Royal to return to action in Friday’s Grade Two WKD Hurdle.
Don Poli, however, is already a 3-1 second favourite behind cross-channel raider Silviniaco Conti in most ante-post lists for Saturday’s Grade One, the shape of which will become clear after today’s forfeit stage.
With ground conditions currently “good” at the Northern Ireland course, Elliott will welcome any rain which is forecast towards the weekend.
“Don Poli is one I’d like to run. He has done some good bits of work but if the ground is better we may run something else,” said the Co Meath trainer who currently still has eight entries still in contention.
Don Cossack may not be able to defend his Down Royal crown but is about to take his first steps back to action at Elliott’s Longwood base.
“He’s after doing 10 to 12 weeks of hacking and is coming to us on Tuesday. We’re really looking forward to getting him back. Everyone knows what he can do but if he’s not 120 per cent we’ll retire him,” Elliott said.
The Gigginstown team have won Saturday’s feature for the last three years and will also have another ex-Mullins star in the race with Valseur Lido who is now in the care of Henry de Bromhead.
“It will be Valseur Lido’s first run for us. He looks really nice and obviously he has top form so we’re looking forward to getting him out,” said de Bromhead who will also run Sadler’s Risk in the race.
Perhaps the most exciting horse to leave Mullins’s care in September, however, is Apple’s Jade, a spectacular 41-length Aintree winner who is as low as 6-1 third favourite for the Champion Hurdle behind former stable companions Faugheen and
Apple’s Jade is one of 11 left in Friday’s €50,000 Down Royal feature which was won last year by the subsequent Fighting Fifth winner, Identity Thief.
Also left in is her old rival Ivanovich Gorbtov, who beat her in the Triumph Hurdle, and another JP McManus-owned, Grade One star, Jer's Girl. The Prix Alain Du Breil winner, Footpad, is another potential contender.
“She will work during the week, and I’ll chat to Michael and Eddie < O’Leary, but I’m not certain she’ll run. Obviously we haven’t got her long and we want to do the right thing by her, and there’s a nice race at Naas for her too,” the in-form Elliott said.
“We’ve some real nice bumper horses and maiden hurdlers to run but they’d need a bit of rain as well.”