Simply Ned bids to take down another Willie Mullins big gun and claim a third straight victory in the Paddy’s Rewards Club “Loyalty’s Dead, Live For Rewards” Chase at Leopardstown on Friday.
The British raider passed the post second in the 2017 renewal of the two-mile-one-furlong contest, but was later confirmed as the winner by the on-course stewards after being hampered by the Mullins-trained favourite Min on the run-in.
Last season Simply Ned wore down Footpad to successfully defend his crown – and is reported to be in good shape after travelling to Dublin for the hat-trick bid.
Richards said: “He’s over there now and exercised on the track this (Thursday) morning. He’s absolutely fine.
“He seems in grand form and I just hope he gets a clear run, along with all the other horses in the race.”
The red-hot favourite this time around is Chacun Pour Soi, who is unbeaten in two starts for the champion trainer and was last seen claiming the notable scalp of Defi Du Seuil at the Punchestown Festival in early May.
“It sounds like Willie thinks a lot of his horse (Chacun Pour Soi). There’s no doubt he’s a very good horse and we’ll find out a lot more about him on Friday, I’m sure,” Richards said.
“Our old lad has taken all the big guns on before and he’s taking on another. If he gets a clear run I’m sure he’ll run very well.”
Chacun Pour Soi is one of three runners for the Mullins team, with Cadmium and Great Field also declared.
Cadmium makes his first appearance since winning over the Grand National fences in the Topham Chase at Aintree in the spring, while Great Field unseated his regular partner Jody McGarvey in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork almost three weeks ago.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “Chacun Pour Soi is hugely exciting and worked well in Punchestown earlier in the month.
“This is his first step outside novice company, but a reproduction of his Punchestown win should be good enough to win.
“Cadmium is in good form at home. He is the second highest-rated horse in the race, but if he could finish in the money that would be a good start on the road back to Aintree.
“Great Field has become frustrating, but seems fine after his fall in Cork. With a good round of jumping he would be involved.”
Gordon Elliott’s Hardline, Henry de Bromhead’s pair of A Plus Tard and Ordinary World and Jetz from Jessica Harrington’s yard complete the eight-strong field.
The second Grade One on day two of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival is the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle.
Mullins has claimed this prize in each of the past four seasons and this year relies on Blue Sari, who was only narrowly beaten by the exciting Envoi Allen in last season’s Champion Bumper and made a winning debut over hurdles at Punchestown last month.
Frank Berry, racing manager to Blue Sari’s owner JP McManus, said: “He was workmanlike the last day at Punchestown, but Willie is very pleased with him and hoping for the best.
“It’s a hot race, but Willie is happy with the way he’s come on for his last run.”
Gordon Elliott has declared Abacadabras and Easywork. The former very much sets the standard, having won his first two races over hurdles before finishing second to stablemate Envoi Allen in the Royal Bond.
Embittered (Joseph O’Brien) and Heaven Help Us (Paul Hennessy) complete the quintet.
There is a total prize fund of 200,000 euro up for grabs in the Paddy Power Chase, while the Paddy Power-sponsored beginners’ chase throws up an intriguing clash between City Island and Melon.
Martin Brassil’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle hero City Island makes his chasing debut, while the Mullins-trained dual Champion Hurdle runner-up Melon has an experience edge, having chased home Fakir D’oudairies on his fencing bow at Navan.