Yorkhill on course to return to action at Leopardstown

Willie Mullins also pointing Faugheen towards Leopardstown Christmas Festival

Perhaps racing's most enigmatic talent, Yorkhill, is set to return to action at Christmas and Willie Mullins has indicated his likely target is the €150,000 Leopardstown Christmas Chase.

Yorkhill holds singular status in being quoted by many bookmakers for every championship event at Cheltenham from the Champion Hurdle to the Gold Cup.

Much of that is due to the uncertainty provoked by Yorkhill’s final start of last season when he forfeited a golden Grade One opportunity at Fairyhouse in the Ryanair Gold Cup by continuously jumping violently to his left.

Despite the amount of ground lost around the right-handed course, Yorkhill still only just lost out to the high-class Road To Respect, a frustrating outcome which left Mullins pondering a return to hurdling with the four-time Grade One winner.

Nevertheless the champion trainer’s plan this season has always been to give his dual-Cheltenham festival winner an initial start over fences and Yorkhill’s eagerly anticipated reappearance is set to happen at Leopardstown over the bigger obstacles.

“He probably would have run yesterday [John Durkan Memorial at Punchestown] except it was right-handed. Opportunities left-handed are a little harder to get for a horse like him. But Leopardstown at Christmas looks a good possibility,” Mullins said on Monday.

“His pedigree is all staying and I imagine he’ll go for the longer trip alright. I imagine that [the race formerly known as the Lexus] will be it. He fine and I’m happy with him,” he added.

Impressive success

That could mean a potentially mouth-watering clash with the Gold Cup holder Sizing John who returned to action with an impressive Durkan success on Sunday.

His trainer Jessica Harrington said on Monday: "I haven't made any decision whether he will run at Christmas or not. I'd love to run him at Leopardstown but we'll do whatever is good for the horse."

Sizing John's alternative Christmas option is the King George but Yorkhill's range of abilities mean he is also entered for the three mile Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle on Day Three of Leopardstown. The Stayers champion Nichols Canyon is just one of a range of options Mullins has for that race.

The champion trainer saddled a remarkable 22 winners during the various Christmas festivals in Ireland a year ago and his star-studded team for 2017 is again likely to include Douvan but may also be boosted by the presence of Faugheen.

The 2015 Champion Hurdle winner returned to action in brilliant style in last month’s Morgiana at Punchestown and Mullins indicated he may appear next in the €100,000 Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown.

“Faugheen is entered in that and we’ll probably enter him at Kempton too. But I imagine we would prefer to stay at home. I think we’ll get him out at Christmas alright,” he said.

As for Douvan, who skipped a number of engagements last weekend, including the Tingle Creek at Sandown, the re-titled Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase on Day Two of Leopardstown looks like being his first start since picking up an injury at Cheltenham last season.

“He’s fine and he hasn’t missed a day riding out. He just wasn’t right on the morning we had to declare him [for Sandown]. We had ferries and bad weather, and it was his first run of the year sending him to England, and so, especially the way things happened, I didn’t want to run him,” Mullins said.

“If he wasn’t right when he got there someone else would have had to make a decision, because I wasn’t going to be in England, and that wouldn’t have been fair. So if in doubt, pull out.

“He’s riding out fine. We’re looking at Leopardstown for him. He could go up in trip but I imagine we will keep him at two miles,” he added.

Christmas dominance

Both Min and Un de Sceaux are also in the €100,000 Grade One race, one of seven top-flight races run over the four days of Leopardstown’s €1.3 million holiday festival.

“They’re all entered and we’ll try to find targets for them. They are all horses that can go out an extra half mile. They’re not totally defined by two miles. Hopefully they just all get there fit and well,” said Mullins who downplayed his chance of repeating last year’s Christmas dominance.

“That would be a tall order. I’d be delighted to get anywhere near that again. Last year was extraordinary, the way things happened. I’d love to do it again but I can’t imagine it will happen,” he said.

Before that the Irish man is considering Saturday’s International Hurdle at Cheltenham as a potential second start of the season for Melon. The five year old entered Champion Hurdle considerations with an impressive return to action at Down Royal last month.

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