Mick Winters is optimistic that Moon Prince can secure a first British win for his in-form team at Wincanton today ahead of Rebel Fitz's Cheltenham bow tomorrow, while he has also revealed that he is considering a bold tilt at the Prix Royal Oak for his star mare Missunited.
The shrewd Co Cork handler's select team boasts a 25pc strike-rate over jumps this term, with 13 wins to date – four more than he has managed in an entire season up to this.
Moon Prince will bid to get him off the mark in England in the two-mile-six-furlong handicap hurdle at the Somerset venue this afternoon, though the principal reason for the foreign excursion is to give Rebel Fitz a dry run ahead of a possible outing at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
A bad traveller with a fractious temperament, the classy novice chaser's only previous cross-channel foray came when he rode shotgun to the sales at Cheltenham last November. "I wouldn't know much about Moon Prince's opposition, but he is in very good order, so it would be great if he could tick another little box for us," Winters said.
"We are here since early Monday morning and the horses have settled in well. We're staying with Paul and Alana Cowley in Banbury. They are friends of Rebel Fitz's owner Brian Sweetnam and they have looked after us fierce well.
"It is a nice, quiet little yard about an hour and a half from Cheltenham, and we're hoping we'll learn something. We wanted to see how Rebel Fitz settles in with a view to coming again in March."
Missunited's famous Galway Hurdle triumph has been the highlight of the campaign for the stable, but last year's hugely popular victor of the €260,000 Ballybrit showpiece will be bidding to stretch his winning run over fences to six under Barry Geraghty in tomorrow's two-and-a-half-miler. Winters is hopeful that a good experience would set him up for a return trip for either the Arkle Trophy or Jewson Chase in the spring.
"We had a nice smooth crossing over," he explained, "so we won't be blaming the boat if things go wrong for Rebel Fitz. On ratings, a few others might be a bit better than him, but I'd be hoping that we might have the edge on fitness.
"We'll probably ease off him for a spell when we get home and he won't run on the worst of the ground in January and February, but it would be nice to go back after this with a plan of how to approach things in March."
Winters sent Missunited back to Galway to earn her first Listed win last month, before she finished second to Eye Of The Storm in a two-mile Listed race at headquarters. She could now sign off the year in a Longchamp Group One on Sunday week, victory in which would constitute a training feat of David and Goliath proportions, even by Winters already epic standards.
"Missunited is in great form, we are very happy with her," he said. "The plan is to go to France for that race with her, though nothing is set in stone yet."
After Missunited's Galway Hurdle win, Winters suggested that he would consider aiming her at the mares' race at Cheltenham in March. However, he said yesterday she might not travel if the likes of Quevega and Annie Power do, with a predominantly Flat campaign leading up to another cut at the most valuable domestic jumps race in the calendar on the agenda instead.
Meanwhile, Willie Mullins has revealed that last season's Grade One-winning novice hurdler Un Atout is likely to miss the season. "I'm not happy with him and that's a fair blow unfortunately, but at the moment that's the way it is," the Closutton handler revealed.
Rule The World, another Gigginstown prospect, is being targeted at Navan's Lismullen Hurdle on November 10, after Mouse Morris confirmed that his smart six-year-old will stay over flights for the campaign. "I'm really looking forward to Rule The World," said Morris. "He fractured his pelvis when he ran at Punchestown, but he recovered from that unbelievably quickly."