Carefully Selected is out to book his ticket to the Cheltenham Festival when he makes a swift return to action at Naas on Sunday.
The Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old is the ante-post favourite for the National Hunt Chase after impressing on his first two starts over fences this season, most recently dominating his rivals in a Grade Three contest over two and a half miles at Punchestown.
However, updated race conditions announced last summer stated that to qualify for the National Hunt Chase, a horse must have finished in the first four in a chase staged over an extended two miles and seven and a half furlongs or further, which Carefully Selected has not.
With the clock ticking, Mullins has been left with little option but to turn his charge out just a fortnight after his Punchestown triumph in this weekend’s three-mile Grade Three.
Mullins said: “He’s in good form and, while he won very well over two and a half miles last time, I think the step up to three miles will suit him well.
“It isn’t ideal running back so quickly after Punchestown but he needs to be placed in order to qualify for the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, so we are letting him take his chance this weekend.”
Carefully Selected was not entered for either the RSA Chase or the Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham earlier this week, meaning the National Hunt Chase is his only option.
He will have to concede weight to each of his rivals this weekend, which include his stablemate Small Farm, Gordon Elliott’s Elwood and Matthew Smith’s stable star Ronald Pump.
The latter won on his fencing bow at Fairyhouse before finishing a distant second in the Drinmore and being narrowly beaten over hurdles.
Smith said: “The intention this season was always chasing, and when he won his beginners chase, he was absolutely brilliant. Then in the Drinmore I just was not 100 per cent happy with the way he jumped, even before the bad mistake.
“He ran a great race over hurdles, giving the winner (Treacysenniscorthy) two stone, and in another 20 yards probably would have caught him.
“To run like that off a mark of 145, I would not be afraid if we stayed over hurdles for the Pertemps or even the Stayers’ Hurdle, as I thought that was a fair enough performance.
“But in an ideal world, you would like to be over fences as it’s his only season as a novice. If he jumps on Sunday like he did first time out, I would be delighted.”
The other Grade Three on the card is the Limestone Lad Hurdle, which was won last season by subsequent Champion Hurdle hero Espoir D’Allen.
This year’s field is headed by Australian raider Big Blue, who is trained in partnership by Ciaron Maher and David Eustace and will be ridden by Rachael Blackmore.
The Galileo gelding was pulled up on his European debut in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day, but Maher is anticipating an improved performance in Ireland.
Maher said: “Big Blue has shown that he is a nice quality Flat horse and he is only relatively new over the hurdles.
“He can mix it with the best of the horses down here. We are not just sure where he will fit in up there, but I thought he had the potential to warrant going up there.
“He stays well and handles what is our worst ground, so conditions shouldn’t be a problem for him.
“He has schooled quite a few times since he ran at Kempton and he has schooled well and worked very well so we are hoping for a bold showing. The run at Kempton was not a true reading of Big Blue’s form and I’m still quite confident he will measure up well.
“The Limestone Lad Hurdle will guide as to where we can potentially place him at Cheltenham.”
Mullins saddles Franco De Port and the high-class mare Stormy Ireland, while Elliott is represented by Mengli Khan and the long-absent Sutton Place.
Jetez (Jessica Harrington) and Off You Go (Charles Byrnes) are the other hopefuls.