Dunguib has it all to do against Fly - O'Connell
Jockey Brian O'Connell admits Dunguib will have plenty on his plate as he returns to action in Sunday's BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.
The eight-year-old was a red-hot favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at last year's Cheltenham Festival after winning each of his four starts, including two Grade One races.
However, he came unstuck at Prestbury Park when third behind Menorah while a step up to full company at the Punchestown Festival saw him finish a well-beaten sixth behind Hurricane Fly. That rival is also set to line up in Sunday's race, along with six-time Grade One winner Solwhit, and O'Connell is under no illusions about the task in hand.
"I'd like to think he has improved (from last year)," he said. "It looks a very strong race on paper. You've got Hurricane Fly and Solwhit, which seem to be leading the way this year, but we're looking forward to a good run out of our horse.
"Obviously he will improve for this first run this year. I'm sure it will be testing ground but Leopardstown doesn't seem to get it as heavy as a lot of other tracks so I'm sure we'll have nice ground."
Dunguib was very much one of last season's talking horses before his Festival disappointment. Given that Menorah is unbeaten in two starts this term and fourth-placed Oscar Whisky is more than holding his own, O'Connell thinks there is much encouragement to be taken from that Supreme showing.
"There were plenty of positives to take out of the race," he said. "The form has been rock solid this year and it looks to have been an exceptional novice race last year. We'd be hoping for a good run from our horse (on Sunday) but to expect to beat Hurricane Fly in our first run back would be a lot to ask. We'll just be hoping for a good run from our horse and for him to improve from that."
Colm Murphy has Voler La Vedette primed for the race after deciding to give Leopardstown's Festival Hurdle a miss. He has given the mare extra time to get over her Fairyhouse exertions in mid-December, when she was third to Hurricane Fly and Solwhit. Those two went on to occupy the same positions at Leopardstown two weeks later and all three could meet again.
Murphy's reigning Champion Chase hero Big Zeb is to run at Punchestown on Sunday week before attempting to defend his two-mile crown at Cheltenham. Murphy is training Big Zeb for the Tied Cottage Chase on January 30, which he won 12 months ago en route to glory at the Festival.
The 10-year-old has won both his starts this season, beating old rival Golden Silver in the Fortria Chase and the Dial-A-Bet Chase, and is pleasing Murphy in his work.
"The Tied Cottage is on the cards for him. We're delighted with him, he's very well. He's working well and we couldn't be happier with him," said Murphy.
The Co Wexford trainer may run Quito De La Roque in the Dr PJ Moriarty Novices' Chase at Leopardstown on February 6 after the horse made it two wins from three starts in the space of a month at Naas on Saturday.
"He has an entry in the Moriarty but I'm not sure if it will come too quick for him," Murphy said. "He hasn't missed a beat since his first run so I think we'll wait another week and make a decision. He's come out of his race well, so there's every possibility that he will go there."
Noel Glynn's Becauseicouldntsee features among 17 entries for Saturday's Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock. The three-mile heat used to be viewed as something of a Cheltenham Gold Cup trial but Jodami was the last horse to complete the double back in 1993.
The in-form King Fontaine would be seeking a course-and-distance hat-trick for Malcolm Jefferson if he lines up, while Becauseicouldntsee finished second in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Paul Nicholls has Take The Breeze among the contenders, while Welsh National also-rans Maktu and Dream Alliance could clash again. Other possibles include Major Malarkey and Grand Sefton winner Frankie Figg.
The Champion Hurdle Trial also forms part of the card, but that race has been reopened after having drawn an insufficient entry.
Meanwhile, Alan Fleming felt Starluck was unsuited by the ground when a slightly disappointing third in the rearranged Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday. The trainer had hoped his stable star would put up a similar display to last winter when he was only beaten a short head by Noel Meade's Go Native, but he had to settle for minor honours behind reigning champion hurdler Binocular.
Fleming will consider the options during the next fortnight before deciding on plans for the six-year-old grey, owned by Andrew Wates.
"He's come out of the race fine. He ate up, was out in the paddock on Sunday and is in quite good shape," said Fleming. "You have to be a bit disappointed with the run, but the ground was probably a bit worse than we thought.
"I'm not sure where we go now. In a couple of weeks' time we'll make a decision. We have to be realistic and we have to get the right ground conditions for him."