Willie Mullins fires an eight-pronged assault at the Goffs Thyestes Chase on Thursday in a bid to win the Gowran Park feature for a seventh time.
The champion trainer first won the showpiece event at his local track with Micko’s Dream in 2000 and has since added to his tally with Hedgehunter (2004), Homer Wells (2007), dual winner On His Own (2012 and 2014) and Djakadam (2015).
This year the Closutton maestro’s formidable squad is headed by Invitation Only (Ruby Walsh) and Some Neck (Richie Deegan), who dispute favouritism with some bookmakers.
Invitation Only finished third behind stablemate and Cheltenham Gold Cup aspirant Al Boum Photo on his seasonal reappearance at Tramore on New Year’s Day, while Some Neck was last seen winning the Grade Two Florida Pearl Novice Chase at Punchestown in November.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “Invitation Only has the right sort of profile for the race in that he’s a second-season novice and hopefully open to improvement.
“He has plenty of weight (11st 6lb) and off a mark of 152 it’s not going to be easy, but hopefully he has a good chance.
“Some Neck won his beginners’ chase here and Richie Deegan takes 5lb off his back. Richie is very good value for his claim and won a Grade One for us in last season’s Punchestown Champion Bumper.
“The worry with Some Neck is he can race a bit lazily, so I just hope he doesn’t end up too far back.”
The Mullins octet is completed by last season’s Grand National runner-up Pleasant Company (David Mullins), Pairofbrowneyes (Barry Geraghty), Up For Review (Paul Townend), Isleofhopendreams (Danny Mullins), Polidam (Katie O’Farrell) and Bellow Mome (Brian Hayes).
Mullins junior, who rides in opposition to his father’s team aboard the Pat Kelly-trained Mall Dini, added: “David is reunited Pleasant Company after going so close in the National at Aintree. Again he has plenty of weight (11st 8lb) and he was disappointing over hurdles at Leopardstown over Christmas, so we’re just hoping for an improved performance.
“Isleofhopendreams was second in the Irish National last season and has a nice racing weight with 10st 12lb.
“Paul has gone for Up For Review, who is another second-season novice and maybe he has a bit up his sleeve.
“Katie takes 5lb off Polidam, but he has been a bit disappointing, while Bellow Mome is having his first run in a long time but is at the right end of the weights with 10st 5lb on his back.
“Pairofbrowneyes is interesting. He won the Leinster National at the track last year and I think there might be some improvement in him.
“Hopefully all of ours are going there with some sort of chance in what is a very valuable race.”
Mullins’ main rival Gordon Elliott has a similarly strong hand, with last year’s winner Monbeg Notorious (Davy Russell) joined in the 18-strong field by Alpha Des Obeaux (Rob James), Dounikos (Sean Flanagan), Irish Grand National winner General Principle (Jack Kennedy), Out Sam (Mark Walsh) and Borice (Denis O’Regan). Elliott also has the second reserve in Woods Well.
At the very foot of the line-up is Mr Diablo, representing the father-son combination of Philip and Luke Dempsey.
The 10-year-old ran an excellent race in defeat when runner-up to Tout Est Permis in the Troytown Chase at Navan on his penultimate start, but could only finish fifth at the same track on his most recent outing.
Dempsey senior said: “He seems in good form and we’re hoping for a good run.
“He ran a very good race in the Troytown and I’d blame trainer error for his last run as I ran him back too quick. He seemed well going into the race, but I’d say it just came too soon.
“We’ve given him plenty of time since, so we’ll move on and we’re looking forward to Thursday.”