Djakadam spearheads Mullins cross-channel raid
After landing a big-race double at Ascot last weekend, the Willie Mullins horsebox is heading back across the Irish Sea to plunder more lucrative sterling prizes on Saturday.
Cheltenham's trials fixture is the primary target for Closutton's non-stop winning express, with Djakadam the headline act in the featured Betbright Trial Chase.
Last year's Grand National winner Many Clouds is set to defend his crown in this contest after pleasing trainer Oliver Sherwood in a morning workout. The Aintree hero disappointed on his seasonal return at Wetherby, but bounced back to form when chasing home the Mullins-trained Don Poli at Aintree in December.
"He worked super this morning," revealed Sherwood. "It looks a hot race, but he's ready to rock and roll."
Mullins could have another live Festival contender on show after Allblak Des Places was given an entry in the Grade Two juvenile hurdle over an extended two miles.
The four-year-old was a winner of a Fairyhouse maiden on his debt for the champion trainer. Leading ante-post Triumph contender Who Dares Wins, which is chasing his second win at this grade, could bid to give Alan King a fifth victory in the race.
Paul Nicholls has left in impressive Newbury winner Clan Des Obeaux and Tommy Silver. Nicky Henderson, trainer of last year's winner Peace And Co, has entered Protek Des Flos and Consul De Thaix, while Stuart Edmunds will test the Festival credentials of course winner Wolf Of Windlesham.
However, the Mouse Morris-trained Alpha Des Obeaux will not run in the Cleeve Hurdle on the same card despite featuring among the 10 entries for the Grade Two contest, as it comes just nine days after his comfortable success in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran. "We entered him for the race last week, but he won't be going now," Morris explained. "He's come out of Gowran well."
There may still be an Irish challenger, with Guitar Pete in the mix for Sandra Hughes, but Colin Tizzard's Thistlecrack is the star name on the list of possibles.
Robert Walford's Camping Ground will be stepped up to three miles for the first time after blitzing his rivals in the two-and-a-half-mile Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year's Day.
Mullins, meanwhile, will also be chasing sterling at Doncaster, where he's sending Morning Run for Saturday's OLBG.com Mares' Hurdle. The Closutton supremo also has Petite Parisienne, who was a Grade One winner last term, and Whiteout in the mix but plans for those two are not yet certain.
Closer to home, the Jessica Harrington-trained Ttebbob will aim to get his season back on track in next month's Flyingbolt Novice Chase at Navan.
The seven-year-old was seriously impressive in winning his first two starts over fences, but failed to fire behind the magnificent Douvan in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting.
Jockey Robbie Power believes Ttebbob was below-par having impressed at Navan just 13 days earlier and the leading rider expects the gelding to bounce back this spring.
"He's a lot better than that (run at Leopardstown). When he goes to the racecourse he leaves everything on the racecourse and when he went to Navan, he was very impressive, but he beat a horse rated 140 by 41 lengths and went a proper gallop all the way," Power said.
"I just think he left the Leopardstown race in Navan. He's a horse that needs plenty of time between his races.
"He'll probably go to Navan for the Grade Two Flyingbolt Novice Chase."