Chris’s Dream and Real Steel lock horns in what promises to be an informative renewal of the Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park.
Henry de Bromhead’s Chris’s Dream made a hugely impressive start to his campaign when turning the usually competitive Troytown Chase into a procession at Navan in late November, earning him a steep rise in the weights.
The eight-year-old was due to test the water at the highest level in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown at the start of the month, but was withdrawn in the hours leading up to the feature event on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival due to unsuitable ground.
With more testing conditions forecast in County Kilkenny, Chris’s Dream will instead drop to two and a half miles for Saturday’s Grade Two.
De Bromhead said: “We definitely won’t have any worries about the ground, anyway.
“He seems in good form. I don’t think coming back to two and a half is a big concern – he did win his beginners chase over two and a half, so hopefully it won’t be a problem.
“We’d have preferred to have run him a couple of weeks ago, but we’ll see how we go.”
Chris’s Dream is entered in both the Ryanair Chase and the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup next month, but De Bromhead is in no rush to decide on his Festival target.
He added: “We’ll get this weekend out of the way before we think about Cheltenham for him.”
Chris’s Dream’s chief rival this weekend is the Willie Mullins-trained Real Steel, who also holds Ryanair and Gold Cup entries at Cheltenham in March.
The seven-year-old has impressed in winning two of his three starts this season, most recently putting his then stablemate Footpad in his place in the Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles.
The champion trainer’s assistant, David Casey, said: “Real Steel has been running well all season and was impressive in Thurles.
“He comes out best at the weights on Saturday and the track, trip and ground will all be fine for him.”
Noel Meade’s Tout Est Permis and Gordon Elliott’s pair of Death Duty and Shattered Love all carry the colours of Gigginstown House Stud.
Gigginstown’s Eddie O’Leary said: “Death Duty ran OK after a long time off over hurdles, but hopefully we’ll see an improvement on that – we’ll have to.
“Tout Est Permis has been in handicap hurdles, hopefully he’ll be happier back over fences.
“The mare (Shattered Love) should hopefully go well.”
Meade also runs Snow Falcon, with Kaiser Black from Pat Doyle’s yard completing the seven-strong field.
Grade Two honours are also up for grabs in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle, which has attracted a small but select field of five.
Perhaps the most interesting runner is the Mullins-trained Cilaos Emery, who was hugely impressive in winning his first two starts over fences this season, but made it no further than the first fence in the Dublin Chase a fortnight ago.
Casey added: “He obviously got a fall in Leopardstown the last day and we just felt running him back over hurdles might be a good confidence booster for him.
“He schooled very well over hurdles during the week. The track and the ground and everything will suit him, so hopefully he goes there with a good chance.”
There has been support for Cilaos Emery in the ante-post market for the Champion Hurdle this week, but he would need to be supplemented.
“We haven’t even spoken about Cheltenham yet. We’ll see how he runs this weekend and make plans from there,” said Casey.
Joseph O’Brien has declared Darasso for both this race and the Boyne Hurdle at Navan on Sunday.
Chateau Conti, Mengli Khan and Scheu Time are the other hopefuls.