WILLIE MULLINS turns to the all-weather facility at Dundalk tonight in search of a decent racing surface for his Cheltenham Festival contender Pique Sous, which has its first start in three months in the two-mile maiden.
A ready maiden hurdle scorer at Thurles in October, the Martaline six-year-old is a 25/1 shot for each of the two traditional Grade One novice hurdles at next month's Cotswold gathering.
The champion trainer maintains that he needs good ground to be seen at his best, so it will be fascinating to see how he fares here under Paul Townend.
As a three-time bumper winner that was beaten less than two lengths when third in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham last year, the suspicion is that the syndicate-owned Pique Sous will take plenty of stopping.
The race-fit Joseph O'Brien-ridden Cairdin, a taking winner of a handicap hurdle for Mags Mullins at Leopardstown over Christmas, is the most obvious threat, not least in light of his fine second to Glam Gerry – when Go Native and Jezki were behind – at Navan in October.
Pat Flynn's Killarney bumper scorer Sword Of Honour is another that lends an unexpected touch of class to the €8,000 heat, but Pique Sous is surely the one to keep on side.
O'Brien, who will partner his father Aidan's first runner of 2013 when he throws the leg over Ahimsa in the mile handicap, could bag his first win since being crowned champion jockey in November on Pat Martin's Knock Stars in the opener.
Runner-up for a second time in a row here when just denied by That's A Fret a fortnight ago, Knock Stars is 2lb better off with that conqueror now. He has top-weight to boot, but this modest five-runner affair looks distinctly winnable.
In the apprentices' maiden, Irish Grand National-winning trainer Tom Gibney can collect with To Choose, while the nap vote goes to Michael O'Callaghan's Typhoon Lily in the fillies' edition.
Muizenberg Nights, second on its debut for Tommy Stack a week ago, is a live danger, but Typhoon Lily travelled like a dream before just running out of steam when third here over a mile on its sole outing back in December. She drops to seven furlongs now, so that might see her prevail for Fergal Lynch.