Willie Mullins looks set to facilitate a mouth-watering early showdown between two of Irish racing's brightest chasing prospects after confirming that his ante-post Gold Cup favourite Sir Des Champs will tackle Flemenstar at Punchestown on December 9.
Although reluctant to speculate as to whether Leopardstown's Lexus Chase or Kempton's King George VI Chase might appeal more as a follow-up target, the champion trainer stated that his Gigginstown Stud-owned six-year-old would be campaigned with March's Prestbury Park showpiece as the ultimate goal.
"I imagine we are gearing towards the Gold Cup," Mullins admitted of the dual Cheltenham Festival hero. "He'll probably start off in the John Durkan and he's entered in the King George, but he'll be entered for Leopardstown at Christmas too."
A Sir Des Champs-Flemenstar dust-up in next month's Grade One, which is also likely to feature last year's winner Rubi Light, could have a significant bearing on either horse's future objectives.
Peter Casey's hugely exciting Flemenstar, twice a Grade One winner last term, was thoroughly polished in routing a more experienced field on his reappearance over two miles in last Sunday's Fortria Chase.
As part of a gradual process of stepping the 2010 point-to-point winner up in trip ahead of a Gold Cup tilt, his colourful Meath-based handler nominated the Punchestown two-and-a-half-miler as the most suitable target. With Mullins now committing Sir Des Champs to the same race, two enormous reputations are at stake.
At top-priced 6/1 for the Gold Cup, a race that Irish horses have a dismal record in ever since War Of Attrition's 2006 victory, Sir Des Champs might be perceived to have more to lose.
However, Flemenstar, as low as 7/1 in the ante-post book after his Navan win, will be race-fit, so defeat for him could be more damaging.
In light of the seven-year-old's prowess over shorter distances, there is a legitimate question mark over how he will be suited by the three-and-a-quarter-mile Gold Cup journey, so connections could conceivably be prompted to consider other options if Sir Des Champs were to bring his sequence of six successive wins to an end.
Having won a Grade One over three miles and a furlong in heavy ground at the Punchestown Festival in April, Sir Des Champs has much less to prove in terms of stamina.
"He's built to carry 12st over three miles, which is ideally what you want in a chaser," Mullins acknowledged. "I think the key to him is that he is so relaxed – he just does what he has to do."
In the meantime, Mullins has Hurricane Fly's Morgiana Hurdle comeback to contend with at Punchestown this Sunday. Mouse Morris revealed yesterday that Baily Green will bid for an eighth win on the spin in the two-mile Grade Two novice chase on the same card.
"He's in great form, and that's the only reason I'm contemplating running him," Morris said of his bold-jumping front-runner.