A trip to Cheltenham next month may no longer be a priority for Don Cossack, but Gordon Elliott's talented six-year-old will seek to atone for two disappointing recent performances in the Paddypower.com Novice Hurdle at Naas on Sunday.
The one-time ante-post favourite for the Neptune Investment Novices' Hurdle fell at the last when held by Pont Alexandre at Navan in December prior to suffering a second shock defeat when held by Mozoltov at Punchestown earlier this month.
While Elliott hasn't entirely ruled out a trip to Prestbury Park for the Gigginstown Stud-owned Don Cossack, he is eager to see how Sunday's Grade Two unfolds first.
"He is in the Supreme and the Neptune at Cheltenham, but we'll get Sunday out of the way before we make any further plans for him," the Co Meath handler said of the triple bumper winner.
"He is in great form and he has come out Punchestown very well. It looks a good race on Sunday and we'd be hopeful of a big run from our lad."
Willie Mullins, who trains the current Neptune market leader Pont Alexandre and Supreme-bound Mozoltov, has no fewer than six of the 15 entries for Sunday's two-miler. Paul Nolan's Defy Logic, Dessie Hughes' Bright New Dawn and Brian Hamilton's Moscow Mannon are other precocious-looking contenders.
Fourth in last year's Champion Bumper, Moscow Mannon won easily on his Navan hurdling bow under Andrew Lynch in December.
Speaking yesterday, Hamilton echoed Elliott's sentiment in relation to Cheltenham, but revealed that Declan Lavery, who rode his seven-year-old in bumpers, will be back in the saddle this weekend.
"Moscow Mannon will be using Sunday as a fact-finding mission," Hamilton suggested. "He hasn't had an ideal preparation but he definitely runs with Declan Lavery as the rider. He is entered in Cheltenham but that might come a bit too soon."
On a card billed as a trials day for the four-day Cotswold meeting, there are two other Grade Twos.
Recent winners Make A Track and Mikael D'Haguenet are among 10 in the Woodlands Park 100 Club Nas Na Riogh Novice Chase, while the Ted Walsh-trained Seabass, third in last year's Aintree Grand National, could clash with the likes of Realt Dubh, Days Hotel and Call The Police in the two-mile Paddy Power Chase.
The entries for the 11 Festival handicaps were unveiled yesterday, with the 302 Irish-trained possibilities the largest contingent ever put forward from these shores. The programme has attracted an overall record of 1,145 entries.
Tom Mullins' JP McManus-owned Alderwood, the only raider to score in handicap company at the meeting last year, is 8/1 ante-post favourite for the Grand Annual Chase, and is one of 71 that appear on the initial list for the two-miler.
Willie Mullins' rejuvenated Tennis Cap, a dual recent winner, has the option of the Coral Cup, the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle and the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Hurdle. The weights for all the handicaps will be published next Wednesday.