Philip Hobbs is looking forward to seeing Defi Du Seuil test his powers back over two miles in the Ryanair Novice Chase at Punchestown.
After an unbeaten juvenile hurdling campaign that included victory in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham, the six-year-old endured a disappointing run of form last term during what was also a difficult season for his trainer.
However, both horse and trainer have come back fighting, with Defi Du Seuil improving significantly from an unpromising chasing debut at Cheltenham to win three races – completing his hat-trick in the two-and-a-half-mile JLT Novices’ Chase at the Festival in March.
A minor fetlock injury ruled him out of an intended appearance at Aintree last month, but he is reported to be back in rude health for his appearance in Ireland – with Hobbs deciding to run his stable star in Thursday’s two-mile race rather than step up to three miles two days earlier.
Hobbs said: “We just felt this might be the slightly weaker race of the two – and if he can prove he is effective back over two miles, it might give us more options going forward.
“He’s in good form, and we’ve had no problems with him since (the setback). We’re very happy him.
“It’s a good race, and we’re looking forward to running him.”
Defi Du Seuil’s task is far from straightforward, with Willie Mullins fielding a formidable three-strong team.
Paul Townend keeps the ride on Arkle Trophy hero Duc Des Genievres, with Ruby Walsh on board Chacun Pour Soi – who made a hugely impressive Irish debut at Naas in March.
The champion trainer’s nephew David Mullins partners the recent Ryanair Gold Cup hero Voix Du Reve.
“Chacun Pour Soi might not have the experience for this but looks to have a huge amount of ability,” said the Closutton trainer.
“He’s a very brave horse and has always jumped well.
“Duc Des Genievres did it very well in Cheltenham, and the rain has come in time for him. That puts him in the picture.
“Voix du Reve had a hard race in Fairyhouse and is possibly going for place money here over this trip.”
Henry de Bromhead saddles Aintree winner Ornua, while the Joseph O’Brien-trained Us And Them bids for an overdue victory after filling the runner-up spot on five consecutive occasions – including at Cheltenham and Aintree.
O’Brien said: “Us And Them has danced every dance this season, and obviously ran well again at Aintree.
“He deserves to get his head in front, and the extra week will be a help to him after Aintree.”
Gordon Elliott’s outsider Duca De Thaix completes the seven-strong field.