Joseph O’Brien is looking to further strengthen his hand in the four-year-old division as Sir Erec bids to follow up his debut win in the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday.
O’Brien dominated a Triumph Hurdle trial at Cheltenham last weekend when Fakir D’Oudairies beat stablemate Fine Brunello and this time he saddles three with Filon D’Oudairies annd Gardens Of Babylon also lining up.
There is no doubting his first string, though, with Sir Erec, third in the Long Distance Cup on Champions Day at Ascot to Stradivarius, taking to hurdling well on debut.
“Obviously we were very happy with that for his hurdle debut. He’ll have to step forward and hopefully he’ll be able to do it,” said O’Brien.
O’Brien was credited with preparing Ivanovich Gorbatov when he won the Triumph Hurdle in 2016, but it was before he had officially started training.
Asked to compare Sir Erec with Ivanovich Gorbatov, he said: “They are two completely different horses, so it would be very hard to compare them.
“The had similar enough ratings on the Flat, but this lad’s a much bigger horse and maybe wouldn’t have the miles on the clock that Ivanovich did.
“It’s a big ask going straight into a Grade One, and he’d be entitled to come on again from it, so we’ll see what happens.”
Gordon Elliott runs Chief Justice and Coeur Sublime, with the latter a faller at the last when coming to make a challenge in a Grade Two at Christmas in which Chief Justice ran on to be second.
“Chief Justice was a bit unlucky the last day. He was a bit far out of it when my other horse fell,” said Elliott.
“Coeur Sublime was sore for a bit after that, but he’s OK again. You won’t see the best of him until we get a bit more of an ease on the ground.”
Elliott also runs Surin who is evenly matched with O’Brien’s Gardens Of Babylon.
Willie Mullins sends Tiger Tap Tap, second to Sir Erec on his Irish debut, and Lamarckise and his son and assistant Patrick is hoping to turn the form around.
“I’d be hoping Tiger Tap Tap might turn the form around with Sir Erec,” he said.
“Sir Erec had more runs on the Flat, and was probably a more professional horse than our fellow over Christmas.
“I’d like to think our horse is open to a bit more improvement, so we’ll see.
“Lamarckise is a filly who works well at home and we’ve decided to run her in a Graded race thinking that if she wins then great, and if she doesn’t she’ll still be a novice next season.
“It’s not ideal, but it’s just the way the season has been.”
Elliott’s Vision D’Honneur made a big impression when scoring on his second outing over timber at Punchestown and is one of the favourites for the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle.
He was, though, beaten on his Irish debut at Leopardstown by Klassical Dream and the two meet again.
“I thought he would win first time at Leopardstown. He finished fourth and the first three all had runs over hurdles,” said Elliott.
“Our lad just jumped a bit green and spent too much time in the air, but ran well and was only beaten over five lengths.
“He’s improved an awful lot from it and Jack (Kennedy) said he’ll actually improve again from Punchestown as he was still green. I think he’s a smart horse.”
Also in the Gigginstown colours is Noel Meade’s Valdieu, who took a while to open his account but has now won his last two.
“He won easily in the north and then he was good the other day at Naas. That race the other day may just be a little bit false as the favourite (Barrington Court) went wrong so wasn’t in competition,” said Meade.
“Maybe the strength in depth in the race wasn’t that great, but he jumped very well and did everything right.
“We’ve always loved him at home.”
O’Brien runs Entoucas, second in the race won by Klassical Dream at Leopardstown.
“Entoucas ran in a very strong maiden at Christmas. The winner was highly regarded and of the first four home, everyone thought there’s would win going into the race,” he said.
“We like our horse and we’re looking forward to running him again.”
It is perhaps not quite the surprise it first looked, then, that Ruby Walsh rides Klassical Dream in preference to Grade One winner Aramon – especially as Patrick Mullins compared him to an old stable favourite.
“Aramon was very good over Christmas and reminded me a lot of Hurricane Fly the way he sprinted clear,” he said.
“You could question the form, but he couldn’t have done any more than he did on the day and we’ll see if he’s as good as he looked on Sunday.
“Klassical Dream won well over Christmas as well and that run can probably be upgraded given a lot of our horses who ran first time out over Christmas got beaten or disappointed.
“His work at home has been good since and we’re expecting plenty of improvement.”
The Mullins’ team is also represented by Elixir D’Ainay and Prince D’Aubrelle.
“Elixir D’ainay ran well in a maiden hurdle in Punchestown. He’s a horse with a lot of ability and a chasing type down the line,” said Mullins jnr.
“We think he’s a Graded horse, so we’re giving him a go in a Graded race and if he doesn’t win, he can still be a novice next season.
“Prince D’Aubrelle is a horse with plenty of ability, but he’s fragile and difficult to train.”