Kemboy is aiming to reverse the form of his Christmas comeback in a cracking renewal of the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on Sunday.
Willie Mullins’ charge emerged as just about the best staying chaser in training last season – putting an early exit in the Cheltenham Gold Cup behind him in winning the Betway Bowl at Aintree and the Punchestown Gold Cup.
A dispute regarding his ownership overshadowed the first half of his season, but he tried to defend his crown in the Savills Chase a month ago when, after travelling in his usual zestful manner, he faded to finish fourth behind Delta Work – whom he meets again.
“It was a funny-run race at Christmas, but Kemboy has come out of it perfectly and we’re going back there with him,” said Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father.
“He has surprised us. As a novice hurdler and a novice chaser he was a good horse, but not a real Grade One horse – he has just improved with stepping up in trip and maybe a change of tactics to roll him out in front a bit more.
“He was only seven last year, so he was entitled to improve.”
Mullins also runs last year’s winner Bellshill, as well as well as last season’s Topham Chase victor Cadmium.
Since his narrow triumph of 12 months ago, Bellshill has disappointed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and finished well-beaten in the Punchestown Gold Cup and in the Savills Chase.
“I think his form is far superior going right-handed, but there is a shortage of races so he’ll run here,” Mullins junior added.
Delta Work bids to provide Gordon Elliott with his first Irish Gold Cup success.
Eddie O’Leary of owners Gigginstown House Stud said: “It’s a very good race. We’re hoping for a good clear run and a clear round and we’ll see what we can do.
“We hope there’s more improvement in him. I think he’ll need to improve, they all will.”
Philip Reynolds, owner of the Pat Kelly-trained Presenting Percy, hopes the decision to miss last week’s Galmoy Hurdle, which he had won for the past two years, will pay dividends.
So far this season Presenting Percy has finished a promising third in the John Durkan at Punchestown and fifth – just half a length behind Kemboy – in the Savills Chase.
“It’s pretty straightforward really – I’d have loved to have had a crack at the hat-trick in the Galmoy Hurdle, but I’m not sure we’d have been successful as the mare (Benie Des Dieux) was very impressive,” said Reynolds.
“Percy ran very well in the John Durkan and I thought he jumped and travelled well in the Savills, but I’d like to have seen him see it out better. I came away disappointed. I’m not giving up on him though and all the more reason to go back.
“He was beaten four lengths and finished a close fifth at Christmas and I expect him to be more competitive this time.”
Henry de Bromhead has always thought highly of Chris’s Dream and while there have been the odd flashes of talent, he finally lived up to it in the Troytown Chase last time out.
“He seems in great form. His season seemed to tail off after three runs last year – he was disappointing at Aintree and his run at Punchestown was awful,” said De Bromhead.
“This year we said we’d put him away for the spring. He’s had a nice break since the Troytown and we want to start him back in this race.
“He won the Surehaul (Novice Hurdle) in Clonmel by the length of the straight on his first run for us and we’ve always thought he was a good horse.
“This year we’ve tried to give him a bit of time before giving him a go in a Grade One and we’ll see where we are.”
With the 2017 Irish Gold Cup, Cheltenham Gold Cup and Punchestown Gold Cup winner Sizing John ruled out through injury, Jessica Harrington relies on outsider Jett.
The field is completed by Tony Martin’s Anibale Fly and Warren Greatrex’s mare La Bague Au Roi, who won the Grade One Flogas Novice Chase at this meeting 12 months ago.