Star mare Benie Des Dieux is one of five runners for Willie Mullins as he seeks a fifth victory in the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil.
It is 35 years since Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup heroine Dawn Run landed the Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil for the 13-time Irish champion trainer’s late father Paddy Mullins – with his brother, Tony Mullins, the winning rider. Dawn Run was fatally injured when defending her crown the following year.
The master of Closutton followed in his father’s footsteps when first securing the prestigious prize with Nobody Told Me in 2003 and has since added to his tally with Rule Supreme the following year and Thousand Stars, who landed back-to-back renewals in 2011 and 2012.
Leading the challenge against the Francois Nicolle-trained defending champion De Bon Coeur is Benie Des Dieux, who bounced back from her final-flight fall at Cheltenham in March with victory in the Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown a fortnight ago.
Mullins told Sky Sports Racing: “I’m very pleased with all the horses. Just with the winter we had in Ireland, a lot of our horses haven’t had many runs, which is why we’ve such a big team over here in France.
“I’m sure the French are not happy, but we’re here and we’ll see what happens.
“Benie has been in good form. She obviously ran very well in Cheltenham and came back in Punchestown and put in a very nice performance.”
Mullins is hoping conditions do not dry out any further.
“I think she’s in good form, and the ground is fine for her,” he added.
“I’d like it a bit softer – but hopefully there is enough water on the track, which will bring her stamina into play.
“It’s going to be a tough race, with De Bon Coeur in the race. But we wouldn’t worry about taking on geldings, and the trip shouldn’t be any problem.
“I think she’s a good mare. Se has to be the one (with the best chance), I think.”
Benie Des Dieux is the chosen mount of Paul Townend over stablemates Melon (Robbie Power), Yorkhill (Danny Mullins), last year’s runner-up Bapaume and Mr Adjudicator (James Reveley).
Bapaume was due to be ridden by Rachael Blackmore, but a fall at Clonmel on Thursday evening means she will be on the sidelines.
Mullins said: “I was disappointed to see Melon fall in Liverpool (Aintree). I thought he was going well at the time.
“I think the better ground will be a help, and the longer trip, and we’re happier with him going to Auteuil than we were going to Punchestown.
“Yorkhill is in fine form. It’s just very hard to find opportunities for him going left-handed. I’m just hoping he runs some sort of race and gets some nice place money.
“I’m happy with Bapaume. He’s a year older and a year stronger. If he sees out the trip he won’t be far away.
“Mr Adjudicator improved hugely for a step up in trip (when winning at Punchestown), and maybe he might improve as much again for an extra five furlongs. It’s the sort of prize-money you don’t get every day of the week, so we’ll take our chance.”
Paddy Power have De Bon Coeur priced up as the 4-6 favourite, with Benie Des Dieux next best at 5-2.