THE prospect of a significant English challenge at Leopardstown's showpiece Hennessy Gold Cup fixture on Saturday has been dealt a blow by Jeremy Scott's decision not to send over his Tolworth Hurdle hero Melodic Rendezvous.
One of two British-trained Grade One-winning hurdlers entered for the top-quality card, Melodic Rendezvous would have offered an invaluable perspective on the relative merits of novice hurdling form lines on either side of the water ahead of next month's Cheltenham Festival.
On his only previous Irish foray, the seven-year-old finished runner-up to Champagne Fever in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown.
In the interim, he has progressed rapidly from a debut Exeter defeat over flights to score twice in contrast to his Willie Mullins-trained Punchestown conqueror, which won at its ease in Cork first time up before suffering two successive reversals.
Along with ante-post evens favourite Un Atout, Champagne Fever is due to spearhead Mullins' team in Saturday's Deloitte Novice Hurdle, but Scott has opted to swerve the €80,000 Grade One in favour of a less taxing assignment at Exeter 24 hours later.
"Exeter is just down the road and, while I'm sure he'll have a hard race on Sunday, I think he'd have an even harder race in Ireland, especially when you consider the travelling and everything," said the handler, who in recent years has transformed his 150-head Somerset dairy farm into an increasingly influential horse racing operation.
If the 51-year-old is a model of self-motivated agricultural pragmatism – he called his wife one day in 2008 to tell her that he had sold the cows – Newmarket's John Ferguson is a product of more genteel patronage.
Handling select Godolphin cast-offs under Sheikh Mohammed's intriguing new Bloomfields National Hunt arm, Ferguson is due to run the Aintree maiden hurdle winner Buthelezi in the Deloitte.
Ruacana, fortuitous when scoring in Grade One company at Chepstow last month, is also expected to measure up against the cream of the local juveniles for him in the Spring Hurdle.
Youghal-born Denis O'Regan, whose career has enjoyed a marked resurgence since his link-up with the Sheikh's long-serving bloodstock advisor, will probably come to Leopardstown to ride both, meaning that the plum mount on the stable's Cotton Mill is up for grabs in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.
Co Down trainer Brian Hamilton has ruled his facile Navan maiden hurdle winner Moscow Mannon – fourth behind Champagne Fever at Cheltenham last year – out of the Deloitte, while Gordon Elliott has said that Ladbroke Hurdle victor Cause Of Causes will also skip it in favour of crack at the featured handicap at Newbury.