Arvika heads Mullins' Christmas assault
Arvika Ligeonniere, such a devastating winner on his last outing at Fairyhouse, will get the opportunity to add his name to an illustrious roll of honour that includes Danoli, Moscow Flyer and Sizing Europe at Leopardstown on St Stephen's Day.
The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old blitzed the Drinmore Novice Chase field to bag a first Grade One victory in sensational style over two and a half miles earlier in the month.
That stunning performance thrust him to prominence in the betting for the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham, so the opportunity to see him revert to two miles and a furlong for the Grade One feature on the opening day of Leopardstown Christmas Festival is a mouth-watering prospect.
Of the 12 entries unveiled yesterday, Mullins is also responsible for recent winners Aupcharlie, Marito and Twinlight.
However, the main threat to Arvika Ligeonniere, which has been installed as 10/11 ante-post favourite by Paddy Power, might come from Jessica Harrington's Oscars Well (6/4).
Runner-up to Hurricane Fly in this year's Irish Champion Hurdle, the two-time Grade One-winning novice hurdler got its chasing career back on track after an early fall at Punchestown in November with a confidence-boosting victory at Navan last week.
With Baily Green, Benefficient, Dedigout and Sword Of Destiny other potential starters, a hugely informative race is in store.
Mullins, meanwhile, has decided that Quevega will defend her crown in the Mares' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Speculation had been mounting that the outstanding eight-year-old would instead run in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle after four-time winner Big Buck's was ruled out for the season.
Henry de Bromhead has decided against running Days Hotel in the Paddy Power-sponsored Dial-A-Bet Chase. The unbeaten chaser will be kept for the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles on January 17 instead.
De Bromhead has yet to finalise plans for his in-form Future Champions Novice Hurdle entries Too Scoops and Sizing Rio.
Ground conditions at Leopardstown, where leading juvenile hurdle prospects Our Conor, Blood Cotil and Diakali are pencilled in for the Grade Two Q8 OILS Hurdle on day one, have improved slightly to yielding to soft.
The official going at Limerick ahead of its four-day gathering remains heavy, though that hasn't stopped a variety of smart horses being entered for the St Stephen's Day programme.
Of the 23 entrants for the Grade Two Greenmount Park Novice Chase at the Munster track, Mikael D'Haguenet, Dedigout, Sword Of Destiny, Marito Aupcharlie, Mount Benbulben and Lyreen Legend are all possible starters for a race that was won in 2011 by Mullins' Cheltenham Gold Cup contender, Sir Des Champs.
The champion trainer has yet to decide on whether to tackle Leopardstown's Lexus Chase or the King George VI Chase with his dual Cheltenham Festival hero.
Elsewhere, Paul Nicholls has confirmed that Ruby Walsh will now ride Kauto Stone in the Kempton Grade One. Walsh's intended mount, Al Ferof, has been ruled out for the remainder of the season.