Mullins hoping 'Arctic' can fire in Fairyhouse feature
Willie Mullins has indicated that Arctic Fire will get the chance to claim its first Grade One in Sunday's Hatton's Grace Hurdle rather than in the Fighting Fifth a day earlier.
The champion trainer had already confirmed that Wicklow Brave, which has the same owners in Wicklow Bloodstock and ran an excellent third behind Nichols Canyon and Faugheen in the Morgiana Hurdle, is an intended starter in the Newcastle event after being supplemented on Monday.
Arctic Fire, so often the bridesmaid last term, finished third in the 2014 Fighting Fifth. However, he beat Saturday's Gowran Park winner Monksland on his seasonal bow in the Lismullen Hurdle over two-and-a-half miles.
Sunday's €85,000 Bar One Racing-sponsored showpiece is over the same trip, and Arctic Fire was slashed to odds-on favouritism for the race after Annie Power was ruled out due to a setback.
"I must speak with the owners, but the Hatton's Grace certainly looks as though it might be the way to go with Arctic Fire," Mullins said yesterday.
"Annie Power just got a bang schooling and it took longer than expected for it to go down. I was much happier with her progress this morning so we will take it day by day with her. Clondaw Court will run in the Hatton's Grace as well. He will be a hard horse to place so we will start at Fairyhouse. Long Dog and Bachasson will definitely run in the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle, and Thomas Hobson and Gangster could as well, so I will have two in that and maybe four.
"Outlander is all I have in the Drinmore Novice Chase. He had a hard race just a couple of weeks ago and I would rather wait for Christmas with him, but we'll see. It is a Grade One that comes early in the season for novices so it's not a race that I ever have many for."
There are a total of 10 entries for the Hatton's Grace, though Henry de Bromhead's Identity Thief is also likely to tackle the Fighting Fifth. Noel Meade's Monksland is in the Hatton's Grace and the Drinmore, which has attracted nine entries, including Colin Bowe's in-form Shantou Flyer and Gordon Elliott's exciting No More Heroes.
Disappointingly, just eight have been put forward for the Royal Bond, the first of the card's three Grade Ones.
Mullins, meanwhile, reiterated that Nichols Canyon would likely next head to Leopardstown for the Ryanair Hurdle and that Faugheen would return to Kempton for the equivalent Christmas two-mile Grade One. He also added that nothing untoward has come to light following the reigning champion's shock defeat at Punchestown.
"Faugheen is fantastic," he said. "He had a sore mouth when he came home, but plenty horses have sore mouths and win races - I think he just got tired on the day."
Sir Des Champs, Vautour and Douvan all made winning reappearances in the past week and Mullins was happy to report that they are unscathed. "They are in great order since," he said of the trio, before observing of Vautour's less-than-spectacular triumph.
"For him to travel to England and have a first run over fences right-handed, coming up against race-fit horses, he had a lot of things against him," he surmised. "The third horse was 30-odd lengths back and he is rated 160 - that looks good to me. Visually it probably lacked the wow factor but we'll take it and I think he will improve a fair bit."
The King George VI Chase at Kempton remains Vautour's next target, with the Lexus Chase on Sir Des Champs' agenda and Douvan also bound for Leopardstown over the festive period.