Classy Vautour can display his Cheltenham credentials
If the markets are anything to go by, Vautour is Willie Mullins' chief hope for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, so it will be a major let-down if he doesn't come through what looks a straightforward assignment at Punchestown today.
A clear 7/1 favourite in places for the stirring Festival curtain-raiser, the Robins Des Champs five-year-old could hardly have made a more pleasing impression when pulverising the subsequent runaway winner Lieutenant Colonel on his Irish debut at Navan last month.
He steps up in class now for the Grade Two Moscow Flyer Hurdle over two miles, though it's hard to envisage any of his five rivals denying the champion trainer a fourth win in six years.
Western Boy won a Leopardstown maiden hurdle in convincing fashion for Pat Fahy over Christmas, but only time will tell if he has the scope to land a blow here for Davy Russell.
On form, the Jessica Harrington-trained Mr Fiftyone has achieved most, finishing second to Diakali at Naas before coming home a respectable sixth behind The Tullow Tank in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse at the start of December.
While he and Robbie Power are probably best equipped to spoil the party, you would imagine that the Paul Townend-ridden Vautour will have their measure.
City Slicker, the former champion jockey's only other ride for Mullins on the card, is also fancied to plunder the concluding conditions race.
On official figures, Gordon Elliott's 135-rated Un Beau Matin just emerges best at the weights in this.
Second to Boston Bob here 11 days ago, he might be able to take advantage of the 4lb that he receives from the 2lb lower rated City Slicker, but Townend's JP McManus-owned mount appeals as being a far more progressive individual.
Twice a course winner prior to finding a competitive handicap hurdle at Ascot too demanding, City Slicker has the potential to be able to dominate this field in the way that he likes.
The day's nap vote goes to the Dessie Hughes-trained Si C'Etait Vrai in the beginners' chase, with Mouse Morris' Carry Each Other a second Gigginstown Stud-owned runner fancied in the Connolly's Red Mills Conyngham Cup. Noel Meade's Mullaghanoe River, a faller when travelling well at Down Royal last time, is Si C'Etait Vrai's main threat.
However, Hughes' charge's form, including his recent narrow second to Djakadam at Leopardstown, looks more solid, so he should collect for Bryan Cooper.
With the ground officially soft to heavy at the Kildare venue -- which must undergo an 8.0 inspection this morning due to the threat of frost -- Carry Each Other has lots of appeal in an enduring amateur riders' handicap chase that is all of 160 years old today.
Morris' gelding has been largely disappointing since benefitting from a vintage Russell steer to score at Thurles last year, but he has dropped to a fair mark now and has the services of a decent claimer here in Steven Clements.