Gold Cup favourite Cossack is partnered by former champion at Leopardstown
Davy Russell partnered the marginal Gold Cup favourite Don Cossack in a schooling session alongside the Bryan Cooper-ridden No More Heroes after racing at Leopardstown.
Cooper's mount, the 9/4 market leader for the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, finished upsides Don Cossack after jumping nine fences at the Foxrock venue.
In general, notwithstanding a bob on landing at the fourth obstacle, Don Cossack fenced more fluently than his novice partner, which cruised home nicely in Cooper's hands as they completed the work-out on the flat.
Russell is on standby to partner either the Gordon Elliott-trained Don Cossack or Willie Mullins's Don Poli, depending on which of the Gigginstown Stud-owned contenders Cooper opts for in the Gold Cup.
That it was he who rode Don Cossack during yesterday's session will inevitably intensify speculation that they will be an item come March 18.
Cooper had partnered Don Poli in a similar routine, but it might be unwise to draw much in the way of conclusions from yesterday's pairings.
It may simply be the case that it was obvious for Cooper to ride Don Poli in the Mullins session and for him to prefer to be on Elliott's classy novice later, leaving Russell on Don Cossack.
"Davy sat on him there, Bryan has to make a decision on which one he is going to ride. I would have no problem with Davy riding him," Elliott said of Don Cossack afterwards.
He added: "The two (horses) were very good - I couldn't be happier. Davy said he could have gone round again; I thought the two of them worked very well."
Russell was typically diplomatic when asked if he would like to partner Don Cossack in the Gold Cup. "I'd be delighted to ride any Gold Cup horse," he responded. Don Poli participated in a four-horse Mullins grouping that included fellow Gold Cup fancy Vautour, which was ridden by Ruby Walsh. Vautour followed Ballycasey, with Don Poli in behind alongside Pont Alexandre in what was a less strenuous exercise.
"They jumped eight fences and went about a mile-and-a-quarter," Mullins explained.
"It was just to get their eye in and have a day out rather than serious work. Vautour made a mistake at the first, I think he was just idling, but they all went well. Don Poli is a very lazy horse and takes every bit of work we can give him. As they said in the election, there's lots done, more to do."
Shortly before, after Aspen Colorado justified odds-on status in convincing style under Sarah O'Brien in the bumper, the jockey's brother Joseph, who oversees their father Aidan's jumps team, was non-committal as to whether the winner would contest the Champion Bumper. The JP McManus-owned Aspen Colorado was trimmed to as low as 6/1 from a high of 12/1 for the Festival Grade One.
"I'd be very happy to go," O'Brien admitted of the March 16 event, "but I'd also be happy to wait and go for something else."
McManus's Great Field ran out a tidy winner of the conditions hurdle on its debut for Mullins. Barry Geraghty's mount (5/2 favourite) could now be on the boat to Cheltenham.
"He looked like a nice recruit," Mullins said of the French import. "He's entered in the handicaps at Cheltenham and we'll see what he gets in to."
Earlier, Alisier D'Irlande emulated its former stablemate Sizing Granite by beating Dysios with a polished display in the day's two-mile novices' chase, although I'm All You Need originally filled the runner-up berth prior to being disqualified after its rider Jack Kennedy weighed in 13lbs light.
Henry de Bromhead's electric front-runner will again strive to follow Sizing Granite by adding the Maghull Novices' Chase to its list of accomplishments at Aintree in April, having turned in its most mature performance yet under Andrew Lynch. "That was brilliant. I was hoping he would improve on the slightly better ground and his jumping definitely improved," De Bromhead mused of the impressive 4/7 favourite. "I think he's entitled to go to Aintree; I think the fast track there will suit him. He's an exciting horse."
De Bromhead also indicated that Sizing John will likely tackle the Arkle at Cheltenham rather than the JLT.
I'm All You Need's trainer Paul Nolan was fined €500 for putting a weight cloth on the wrong horse, with his Fine Article, which finished fifth, weighing in 13lbs heavy.
Nolan had combined with Robbie Power to take the €25,000 handicap hurdle with Solita, the game mare clinging on by a short-head at odds of 16/1. The win completed a 169/1 double for Power, who took the maiden hurdle on Jessica Harrington's Jett (9/1).
In the Martinstown Chase, Rachael Blackmore guided John Robinson's Mr Goodenough (25/1) to victory.