Joseph O’Brien is taking nothing for granted ahead of Le Richebourg’s tilt at the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle at Leopardstown.
The JP McManus-owned six-year-old was a high-class performer over hurdles – but has already surpassed those achievements since having his attentions turned the larger obstacles, winning three of his four starts.
After being narrowly denied a top-level win by Delta Work in the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse, Le Richebourg did claim Grade One glory over this course and distance in December and will be a warm order to follow up on Saturday.
O’Brien said: “We were obviously surprised that he won as well as he did at Christmas, but we always thought he would be a better chaser than he was a hurdler.
“He seemed to love the drop back to two miles on good ground.
“It’s not going to be easy for him. Every horse can get beat any day – we’re very realistic – but he was very good the last time and we’d be hoping he could put in a similar performance to that.
“If that’s good enough to win, great, and if not, so be it.”
Le Richebourg’s stablemate Us And Them filled the runner-up spot over Christmas and is once again in opposition.
Mengli Khan was a hot favourite to beat Le Richebourg over the festive period, but could only finish fourth.
He renews rivalry as one of two runners for Gordon Elliott along with Duca De Thaix, who was last seen landing the valuable Dan Moore Memorial Chase at Fairyhouse three weeks ago.
“Duca De Thaix has gone up to a mark of 151 now, which leaves him 3lb behind Joseph O’Brien’s horse, who I think is the one to beat,” said Elliott.
“He was very good the last day. You can’t beat a horse that’s going forward and Duca De Thaix is going forward. He’s enjoying it.
“The one worry with Mengli Khan is that he’s a Flat-bred horse and they can be a little bit hot and cold over fences, for me.”
Willie Mullins relies on Voix Du Reve, who was a shade under five lengths behind Le Richebourg last time.
The home team is completed by Terence O’Brien’s stable star Articulum and the Henry de Bromhead-trained Paloma Blue.
The latter looked sure to make up into a high-class novice chaser this season, but suffered a shock defeat on his fencing bow at Navan and did not entirely convince in the jumping department despite winning here over Christmas.
De Bromhead said: “We’re working on his jumping all the time. It’s taking a while to get him back to where he was, but he’s working very well and he’s jumping way better.
“He took a couple of runs last year and I think that’s just him.”
The sole British-trained runner in the eight-strong field is Gary Moore’s Knocknanuss.
After recording dominant wins at Fakenham and Newbury respectively, the nine-year-old chased home the now-sidelined French star Master Dino on his latest appearance at Plumpton.
Moore said: “He’s in good form and it will be interesting to see how he gets on against the Irish horses.
“Hopefully they don’t get too much rain. He’s a better horse on better ground.”
The first of four Grade Ones on the opening afternoon of the Dublin Racing Festival is the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors 50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff Novice Hurdle.
Elliott’s unbeaten gelding Battleoverdoyen was due to be the star attraction, but he was not declared. In his absence, the Cullentra handler relies on Defi Bleu and Commander of Fleet.
Pat Fahy’s dual bumper winner Dunvegan made a big impression on his hurdling debut at Fairyhouse and takes a marked step up in class.
Fahy said: “He seems in good form – I couldn’t be happier with him, to be honest.
“Everybody was very impressed with him in Fairyhouse and we think a lot of the horse.
“He looks exciting and we’ll find out how exciting on Saturday.
“It’s a good race, so even if he runs well but gets beaten, it won’t be a dead loss.”
Willie Mullins saddles five of the 16 runners – with Come To Me, Dorrells Pierji, Getareason, Relegate and Salsaretta all declared.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “Ruby (Walsh) has decided to ride Relegate, probably more on her bumper form than her hurdling form and she will need to jump better.
“Paul (Townend) has gone for Come To Me. He was disappointing the last day, but we’re just putting a line through that and he was very good in his maiden hurdle in Cork.
“Willie has put me on Salsaretta, which is great. She beat Felix Desjy in Limerick the last day and that looks good form with him coming out and winning the Moscow Flyer. She only carries 11st 3lb – so I’ll have to sweat a bit to do the weight.
“I think Getareason is a good bet to be in the first three or four, while Dorrells Pierji was disappointing the last day and needs to bounce back.”