Benie Des Dieux could head for the Close Brothers Hurdle, with Willie Mullins feeling there is some “unfinished business” in the Cheltenham Festival event.
The mare has only tasted defeat once since joining Mullins from France over three years ago and it came in the corresponding race last season, when she was well in command but came down at the last.
So impressive was she last time out in the Galmoy Hurdle, there were calls for connections to supplement her into the Champion Hurdle, while she already holds an entry in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle as well.
“She’s in the two races. She was a very unlucky loser in the Mares’ Hurdle last year and we might go back and get a bit of unfinished business done, but we’ll see,” said Mullins.
“She hasn’t run an awful lot, but I’ve got her to the stage where I can run her two or three times a year and I want to keep it that way.
“She’d have no trouble going up in trip. If she was to go back over fences, she could line up in a Gold Cup any day of the week. She stays well and her jumping is fantastic, too.
“You’re guaranteed to get soft in the going description on the first day of the Festival and that’s a big plus for her as she’s a big mare.”
One that will be supplemented for the Unibet Champion Hurdle is Ciloas Emery after he returned to the smaller obstacles to win the Red Mills Trial at Gowran last weekend.
Mullins said: “After his win the other day, I think we’ll supplement him for the Champion Hurdle.
“We think he has a better chance of being placed in the Champion Hurdle than the Champion Chase. The Red Mills Hurdle was there and the prize-money he won sorts our problems (supplementary fee) for Cheltenham.
“We schooled him over hurdles before he ran in Gowran and we’ll school him a few more times between now and then. Once the adrenaline kicks in on the day, I think he’ll be fine.”
He will be joined by Sharjah, despite his disappointing run behind Honeysuckle at the Dublin Racing Festival.
“He goes for the Champion Hurdle. His run the other day was terrible. He missed the first hurdle down the back in Leopardstown and we don’t know why because he’s usually a very good jumper,” reasoned Mullins.
“I’d prefer drier ground for him, but I don’t think he’s ground dependent. Horses do handle softer ground as they get older.
“I’d imagine Patrick (Mullins) will ride him in the Champion Hurdle.”
Mullins confirmed both Penhill and Bacardys as intended runners in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle, while Stormy Ireland is on course for the Close Brothers Hurdle.
The champion trainer’s novice squad is headed by the impressive Leopardstown winner Asterion Forlonge.
While he retains multiple entries at the Festival, Mullins is keen to let him line up for the curtain-raising Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – alongside another of owner Joe Donnelly’s star youngsters in Nicky Henderson’s Shishkin.
“I spoke to connections about him and Joe (Donnelly) said ‘Willie, do whatever you want’. He said that to me very early in play,” said Mullins.
“At the moment we think the horse should for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – that’s where we’re headed.
“I’ve been aiming this horse at the Albert Bartlett all year, but he bolted in the last day. He doesn’t show that much speed at home.
“It’s very sporting of Mr Donnelly to let the two horses run in the same race.”
The Big Getaway is likely to carry the Donnelly colours of Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, where he is set to be joined by stablemate Elixir D’Ainay.
Aione, Janidil and Monkfish were among those mentioned as possible runners in the Albert Bartlett.
The Closutton maestro will hold strong hopes in most races across the course of the four days, but rates the chances of Appreciate It in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper as better than most.
He added: “I think he’d have to be one of our main hopes at Cheltenham this year.”