Fakir D’oudairies and Laurina are set for an intriguing showdown in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown.
Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’oudairies mixed it with the very best of his generation as a juvenile hurdler last season, filling the runner-up spot in Grade Ones at Aintree and Punchestown in the spring.
However, he already appears a superior horse over the larger obstacles, having followed up an impressive chasing debut success at Navan with a top-level triumph in the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse, a race in which Samcro departed when still going well.
He is unlikely to have things all his own way on the outskirts of Dublin, with the Willie Mullins-trained mare Laurina a formidable rival, but Fakir D’oudairies nevertheless sets a high standard on chasing form.
Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus, said: “He’s been good in two runs to date.
“I think the general opinion is that Samcro would have won the last day at Fairyhouse.
“It looks a very hot contest – Willie’s mare is obviously very good. We’re coming back in trip, but there is another front-runner in the race (Djingle), so we’ll have to see how we get on.
“It certainly won’t be simple, but the horse is in good form and we’re looking forward to running him.”
Speaking in his Betfair blog, O’Brien said: “We’ve been delighted with his two performances over fences so far and his jumping has been a particular pleasure to watch.
“It’s hard to know what would have happened had Samcro stood up in the Drinmore, but Fakir didn’t miss a beat all the way and was strong up the run-in. Coming back to this shorter trip shouldn’t be a problem for him and any rain that falls will be a positive.
“Laurina will be a tough rival for him, but we’ll be going in thinking we have a good chance.”
Laurina has suffered just one defeat in eight starts for the champion trainer, when finishing fourth in last season’s Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
She made a foot-perfect start to her chasing career when accounting for dual Grade One-winning hurdler Minella Indo at Gowran Park and will be fancied to follow up in a race Mullins has won three times in the last four years, with Douvan, Min and Footpad.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “Laurina came out of Gowran well.
“It’s a very competitive race. Her mares’ allowance offsets Fakir’s four-year-old allowance, but he still has the edge in terms of experience.
“We’re expecting a big run.”
Mullins has a second string to his bow in Royal Rendezvous, with John Queally’s Djingle and Notebook from Henry de Bromhead’s yard completing a quality quintet.
The main supporting race on the opening day of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival is the Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle.
The standard is set by O’Brien’s A Wave Of The Sea, who was runner-up to stablemate Cerberus in a Grade Three at Fairyhouse at the start of the month.
Brendan Duke has high hopes for his Clemencia, who improved significantly from his hurdling debut at Down Royal to win by 15 lengths on his second start at Cork.
Duke said: “We’re mindful of the fact this is a stern test, but at the same time we’re confident about his chances.
“He learnt plenty from the experience at Down Royal and the Clemencia we have now is a completely different horse. Even since Cork, this horse has made astonishing improvement.
“In terms of ability we think he is out of the very top drawer and we’re very excited about him.”
Aspire Tower appears a major contender for De Bromhead following a dominant hurdling debut at Punchestown, while Mullins throws French recruit Echoes In Rain in at the deep end on his Irish and jumping bow.
Gordon Elliott also saddles a French import in Aramax, who was last seen winning at Vittel for Guillaume Macaire in July.
Queally’s hat-trick seeker Sacchoandvanzetti, Gavin Cromwell’s Wolf Prince and De Bromhead’s apparent second string Zarkareva make up the eight-strong field.