Laurina faces test of Hurdle credentials
Laurina puts her Champion Hurdle credentials on the line against older horses in Saturday's International Hurdle as she returns to the scene of her emphatic course and distance success at the Cheltenham Festival.
Willie Mullins intends to send his star mare - unbeaten in four hurdle starts last season against her own sex - across the Irish Sea on what will be her eagerly-anticipated first start outside of novice company.
Already 5/1 second favourite for the Champion Hurdle in March behind Nicky Henderson's back-to-back champion Buveur D'Air, Laurina is a warm-order favourite (5/4) to take the step up in class in her stride.
The five-year-old was a scintillating winner of the Grade Two Mares' Novices' Hurdle last March at the Cotswolds before landing her first Grade One at Fairyhouse but this looks a totally different proposition.
Among her 10 rivals could be Supreme winner Summerville Boy (5/1), which disappointed on his seasonal debut when fourth in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle and is on a retrieval mission for Tom George.
The New One (8/1) is vying to become the first four-time winner following successes in 2013, 2014 and 2016 but Nigel Twiston-Davies has indicated that this could be the 10-year-old's swansong if he fails to fire.
One horse that is firing on all cylinders, however, is commanding Grade Two Hilly Chase winner Castlegrace Paddy with Pat Fahy confident that his seven-year-old is "the real deal".
With just one defeat in four chase starts - when finding the going tough behind Mullins's Footpad at the Punchestown Festival - Castlegrace Paddy's performance left the Carlow handler dreaming of what might be.
"He came out of the race great. He was ridden out today, he's as sound as you'd like and out in the paddock.
"We're delighted. He won pretty easy on the day and the dream is still alive at this stage," Fahy said.
A return to Grade One company over 2m1f at Leopardstown's Christmas Festival is on the cards where he is likely to be reacquainted with Footpad and Hilly Way Chase faller Great Field but Fahy is bullish about what he has on his hands.
"As long as the ground is nice and safe, the plan is to go to Leopardstown. I wouldn't want to run him on very quick ground as he's a big horse but I'd say he's versatile enough.
"I think he's a proper horse - he's the real deal - and if we have a bit of luck and conditions are right, we'll try to enjoy him," he said.
Kemboy is another on track to make the Foxrock venue at Christmas with Mullins's Clonmel Oil Chase winner set to tackle Grade One company in the Savills Chase - formerly known as the Lexus Chase - over 3m on December 28 after missing the Ladbrokes Trophy due to travel problems.
Steve Massey, racing manager for The Supreme Horse Racing Club, said: "He's an improving horse who has won over three miles on heavy ground at Limerick, so we don't think the step up in trip will be a problem.
"This is obviously going to be another step up in grade for him and we'll find out whether he's up to it or not. We'll know a lot more after he runs, that's for sure."
Kemboy is a 12/1 chance for the Savills Chase, with last year's winner Road To Respect and Presenting Percy disputing favouritism at 4/1, although owner Philip Reynolds is toying with the idea of supplementing Presenting Percy for the King George on St Stephen's Day.