Gitane de Berlais can strike gold for Mullins
Vautour skips tomorrow's Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse where in his absence Apache Stronghold and Valseur Lido get the opportunity to complement his stunning Cheltenham triumph.
They were the two horses that got closest to the early favourite for the 2016 Gold Cup last month and this will be the fourth time that they have clashed over fences.
On the first occasion, Valseur Lido slammed Apache Stronghold over tomorrow's two-and-a-half-mile course and distance to announce his arrival as a chaser of enormous potential in the Drinmore.
In Apache Stronghold's defence that day, he never looked happy at the head of affairs and more patient tactics have since enabled Noel Meade's seven-year-old to turn the tables on his conqueror.
He came from behind courtesy of a Paul Carberry masterclass to deny the Willie Mullins-trained Gigginstown Stud charge in the old DR PJ Moriarty Chase and he again made him look one-paced when shading second to the exceptional winner in the JLT.
There will doubtless be little between the two again and the forecasted deep ground may suit the Paul Townend-ridden Valseur Lido by bringing his stamina into play.
However, this nine-runner €100,000 contest is not just about two horses.
It is a cracking affair, with Enda Bolger's AP McCoy-ridden Gilgamboa of real interest as he encounters a suitably sufficient test for a first time since impressing so much at Limerick over Christmas.
Tony Martin's Noble Emperor is another exciting JP McManus-owned prospect, while Mullins will also saddle Gitane Du Berlais in his quest to secure an elusive breakthrough win in the race.
Ruby Walsh's mount landed the Grade One mares' novices' hurdle on this card in 2014 and she has been irrepressible in both of her starts over fences.
A bona fide mudlark, the five-year-old daughter of Balko hosed up on her chasing bow at Limerick, before trouncing the opposition in a weak edition of the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown in January.
She couldn't possibly have won the Grade One any easier than she did and it is worth noting that Irish Saint, which got within a few lengths of the placed duo in the JLT, was all of eight lengths behind her at the Esher venue.
Needless to say, the allowances that Gitane Du Berlais received helped her cause, as they did when she made short work of Grade Three opposition on a switch back to hurdles at Auteuil last month.
Tomorrow, Gitane Du Berlais receives 15lbs from the field.
It is the toughest test she has faced so far, but it is quite possible that she is simply too good a horse not to exploit the opportunity under her peerless rider.
The same all-conquering firm can also plunder the Grade Two novices' hurdle with Shaneshill.
Last term, the smart son of King's Theatre ran a blinder to be second in the Champion Bumper on his first start since November, before improving to turn the tables on Silver Concorde at Punchestown.
Last month, he again defied a three-month lay-off to chase home Douvan in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
It was a fine turn that he should be able to build on now against lesser opposition, and it's also worth noting that he hacked up here in very similar conditions on his hurdle bow back in November.
McCoy has a rare booking for Gigginstown aboard Sandra Hughes' Prince Of Scars in the race, but Shaneshill's chief threat might be Meade's Snow Falcon.
Carberry's mount ran well to be fifth behind Windsor Park at Cheltenham and the added emphasis on stamina here will suit better.
Mullins and Walsh could land the opening maiden with Gigginstown's long absent Unic De Bersy and they again have a strong hand with Petit Parisienne in the mares' Grade One, with Lyrical Theatre and Uranna also representing the stable.
There is tremendous depth to the €100,000 14-runner contest, with Harry Fry's Bitofapuzzle turning out under Noel Fehily after finishing third to Glen's Melody in the Cotswolds.
Fry's Desert Queen is another of the four-strong raiding party of interest, while Meade's Bonny Kate is bidding to complete a quick hat-trick.
It is an open race, and Carrigmoorna Rock might emerge on top. Robert Tyner's mare wasn't herself here the last day, but she had previously looked the part when recording two impressive wins at Newbury and Leopardstown.
If the ground dries up any bit, she could give her Kinsale handler and Robbie Colgan a breakthrough success at the highest level.
In the Gleesons Butchers Handicap Hurdle, Joseph O'Brien gets the nod to record a first hurdles win on his father Aidan's Marchese Marconi. The six-year-old has plenty on under 12st 1lb, but that doesn't mean that he is badly handicapped.
At Cork, Enda Bolger's Federici can take advantage of a favourable mark on his return to the smaller obstacles in the €30,000 handicap, while Tyner's A Hardy Nailer is fancied in the mares' maiden hurdle.
Philip Enright's McManus-owned mount was second to Black Hercules here in November, and she has been knocking on the door since.