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Mullins pair mull over festival form

Trainers Willie and Tony Mullins signalled contrasting vibes ahead of their big runners this weekend with Willie threading cautiously ahead of Cooldine's appearance in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup -- despite plenty of support in the betting -- while Tony is bullish about Aranleigh ahead of his Grade 1 assignment in the Dr PJ Moriarty on the same card.

An ultra-impressive winner of the RSA Chase at Cheltenham last season, Cooldine was catapulted into the Gold Cup equation following that foot perfect display, but in two runs since at the Punchestown Festival and in the Lexus Chase, the eight-year-old has failed to land a blow and was pulled up last time.

"He's done his work nicely and we think he's in good form so we're looking forward to Sunday. I think the track will suit him and the ground will suit him, it's just the lack of recent racing that is a big negative," admitted the champion trainer.

Cooldine could struggle from a lack of "match fitness" according to Mullins, whose charge is the current favourite for the race despite his unrevealing last outing. "You can do a lot of work at home but there is nothing like the races and it's like with footballers, match fitness is what counts," he said.

His brother Tony, however, is hopeful that his stable star can show his true colours in the Grade 1 novice chase headed by Weapons Amnesty.

"I think he'll be competitive and has a better chance than what his price suggests," admitted Tony. "A few people were saying he was lucky to win the last day but I just think he idles in front.

"People have knocked the horse but he's won five times from 10 starts."

A return to Cheltenham is likely for the eight-year-old who has not been seen since taking that Grade 3 contest at Punchestown back in November. "If everything goes well, the plan would be to go to Cheltenham for the RSA Chase, but we'll just have to see how he gets on at the weekend," added Tony.


Paul Nolan, who will saddle Joncol in Sunday's feature Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup, is looking forward to the Cheltenham Festival with his novice hurdler Shinrock Paddy, who headed 30 Irish-trained entries for the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle at the Festival.

Although also engaged in the 2m5f Neptune Investments Novices Hurdler, Nolan feels that it will be the 3m contest that will be given the preference.

"Shinrock Paddy holds an entry in both the Neptune Investment and the Albert Bartlett but he is more than likely to go for the three-mile option," revealed the Wexford handler.

The Irish are to the fore for the Supreme Novices Hurdle -- with 104 entries in total received for the Festival opener -- and Rite Of Passage being one of the most notable for which there were 36 Irish put forward.

Another man looking forward to the Cheltenham Festival is Noel Meade as the Meath trainer prepares Go Native for a return to the Cotswolds.

Go Native is now on the verge of a £1m bonus if he can follow up his Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdle wins in the Champion Hurdle on the opening day of next month's showpiece, and Meade said: "We are just starting to increase his workload. It's very exciting to be involved, especially with so much money at stake."

Meanwhile, just 24-hours after getting an entry for the Grand National at Aintree, Thyestes Chase winner Whinstone Boy followed up his Gowran Park win two weeks ago with another creditable effort in the Kilcash Chase at Thurles yesterday.

Jimmy Mangan, who won the Aintree feature in 2003 with Monty's Pass, is eyeing a return to Liverpool. He said: "Liverpool is the plan and that win won't do him any harm. Stamina is the plus and I'll be doing a rain dance in Liverpool. He will also get an entry for the Irish National but if the ground was fast he wouldn't run in either."