Presenting Percy is set to take the first step towards potential Cheltenham Gold Cup glory at Punchestown on Sunday.
Last season’s top novice is already a 5-1 favourite for steeplechasing’s ‘Blue Riband’ in March and his eagerly anticipated return to action is due to take place in the Grade One John Durkan Memorial Chase.
The two and a half mile €85,000 highlight has been used as a stepping stone towards Gold Cup success in the past by Kicking King (2004) and the legendary Dawn Run all of 33 years ago.
Presenting Percy recorded a second Cheltenham success last season when running out an impressive winner of the RSA Chase. Prior to that he’d won the Pertemps Hurdle at the 2017 festival.
The Philip Reynolds-owned star is one of 19 entries left in the race which will be the 20th year it has been named in memory of the former trainer who died of leukaemia in 1998.
“It’ll be great to see him back out on the track but it is a nervous time,” Presenting Percy’s owner admitted on Tuesday. “The horse looks great and has been pleasing Pat (Kelly) at home. But he’s got to go and do it on the track again, show he can pick up where he left off. I hope to God he does.”
The quick ground conditions that have prevailed for much of the jumps season to date could start to ease this week with significant rainfall forecast before Sunday.
The going at Punchestown is currently ‘good’ and Reynolds will be happy if conditions ease before Sunday as plans to start him before now had to be shelved.
“He was back from his break earlier than he was last year with a hope he’d have been out before now. But we can do no more at home and he has to get back onto the track. He’ll be kicking the door down if he doesn’t get out to do something shortly.
“The John Durkan is a nice starting point for him and if it did rain this week two and a half miles around Punchestown can be the best part of three miles on a flatter track,” he added.
The Gold Cup holder Native River was beaten on his reappearance at Haydock last month and Presenting Percy’s credentials as a potential heir-apparent could strengthen with victory this weekend.
That could require getting the better of Willie Mullins’s Gold Cup contender Bellshill, one of seven entries the champion trainer has left in the Durkan after Tuesday’s forfeit stage.
Bellshill won the Punchestown Gold Cup at last April’s festival and is officially rated 3lbs superior to Presenting Percy. The Mullins horse is a general 20-1 shot in Cheltenham Gold Cup betting.
Among his stable companions left in the Durkan are Kemboy and the nine-time Grade One hero Un De Sceaux. However Un De Sceaux has a range of weekend options including Saturday’s Tingle Creek Chase and the following day’s Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase at Cork which he won a year ago.
Two other Mullins horses, Min and Great Field are also among the contenders for both the Tingle Creek and the Hilly Way as is Henry De Bromhead’s stalwart two-miler Special Tiara.
In other news French jockey Christophe Lemaire has been given the task of trying to secure Dermot Weld's Eziyra a first career Group One in Sunday's Longines Hong Kong Vase.
The Aga Khan owned filly is set to join other Irish hopefuls Latrobe and Rostropovich in the mile and a half Group One at the prestigious international carnival at Sha Tin.
Frankie Dettori was on board Eziyra on her last start when she finished sixth in the Breeders Cup Filly & Mare.
However Weld has turned to Lemaire for this weekend’s assignment where the jockey will attempt to maintain his recent run of big-race success which included a Japan Cup victory on Almond Eye.
Lemaire has been based full time in Japan since 2015 but was previously retained rider to the Aga Khan in France. Among his other international victories is the 2011 Melbourne Cup on Dunaden. He was successful in the Hong Kong Cup on Pride 12 years ago.
Weld’s Hong Kong record goes back to 1991 and a famous win with Additional Risk. He is hopeful of Eziyra’s chance and said: “She may be one of the lowest rated in the race but she’s a very consistent filly and a very good filly who has won five Group races and is multiple Group One placed.”
Before the big international meeting there will be Irish interest in Hong Kong on Wednesday when last year's champion jockey Colin Keane makes his debut in the International Riders Championship at Happy Valley.
Keane is taking on some of the world's best in the four-race series including Winx's jockey Hugh Bowman from Australia and the top US based rider, Javier Castellano. The top Hong Kong jockey Zac Purton is also included as are Ryan Moore and Silvestre De Sousa.