ALL of champion trainer Willie Mullins' big guns are on course to line up at the Punchestown Festival next week, including the unbeaten Sir Des Champs and former Champion Hurdle winner Hurricane Fly.
The aforementioned pair had contrasting fortunes at the Cheltenham Festival last month, as Sir Des Champs became the ante-post favourite for the Gold Cup there next year after he landed the Jewson Novices Chase. However, Hurricane Fly could only finish third behind Rock On Ruby in the defence of his Champion Hurdle.
Despite being a two-time Cheltenham Festival winner, Sir Des Champs is yet to be tested in Grade One company and Mullins believes that he could be very special.
"We have had huge respect for him in the yard all the time, this year and last," admitted Mullins. "He probably never really showed himself off to the general public because we were keeping him for two and three races, but he got a chance to show himself in Cheltenham and we think we might have more in the pot."
Mullins confirmed: "He will go for the three-mile Growise Champion Novice Chase."
As of yet, Mullins is yet to decide if Hurricane Fly will be his only runner in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle, but admits that is unlikely with last weekend's Aintree runner-up Thousand Stars a possibility.
"Hurricane Fly seems to be in good form and it is going to be a very difficult race this season with Overturn coming over, but Hurricane Fly worked yesterday and will work again a couple of times before next week," Mullins confirmed. "Zaidpour is a possibility and I will wait and see how Thousand Stars is. He rode out for the first time since Aintree yesterday and he seemed fine."
Tuesday saw Ruby Walsh on site for Mullins, which was a refreshing sight for the trainer following Walsh's crashing fall at Aintree on Saturday, and he was there to ride on a morning when the Punchestown team were put through their paces.
"They all did a nice piece of work yesterday (Tuesday), and they will do another bit of fast work probably Friday."
Mullins' Quevega is on course for a meeting with Voler La Vedette in the Ladbrokes.com World Series Hurdle in what is billed as one of the most intriguing clashes of the week.
"I am sure Quevega will go for the Ladbrokes.com World Hurdle. I have had four or five that have ran in that type of race all season as they had no other options, the likes of Mourad, Mikael D'Haguenet, So Young and Zaidpour.
"We could have two or three in that race or maybe even a fourth."
Wednesday's tote.com Punchestown Gold Cup may be one of the most competitive of the championship races at the Irish National Hunt Festival next week, and Mullins will rely on Quel Esprit to win him the race for the first time since Florida Pearl 10 years ago.
"Quel Esprit is probably our only runner in the Gold Cup. The Midnight Club ran in the National and he has been put away for the season and Apt Approach will probably go for a shorter trip or a handicap.
"We are happy enough with Quel Esprit coming out of Cheltenham. We obviously weren't happy with him over there, but all his riders have reported that he is good so far."
Mullins will be hoping to get off to a good start in the Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle which he has won in the past with Hurricane Fly.
"Allure Of Illusion is probably our best chance in the Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle, but I have Simeon and Terminal who could also go there. Midnight Game will either go there or the two-and-a-half mile.
"His last two runs were disappointing but it's the end of the season so we will probably let him take his chance."
While of the other novice hurdles he concluded: "I imagine Boston Bob will go for the three-mile novice hurdle on the second day and Felix Yonger will go for the two-and-a-half mile Cathal Ryan Memorial Novice Hurdle.
"They are both in the same ownership of Graham and Andrea Wylie so we would be keen to keep them apart and both have strong chances.
"I think the two of them will make super chasers, but Boston Bob is every inch a chaser.
"Both would appear my best chances of the week, all things being well."