Mullins biding time with unbeaten Un De Sceaux
Willie Mullins sees today's Horse & Jockey Hotel Hurdle at Thurles as the ideal seasonal starting point for his unbeaten gelding Un De Sceaux.
A dual French bumper winner before annihilating his rivals on his Irish debut at Punchestown in February, the five-year-old returned to Co Kildare for the Festival and slammed Moscow Mannon by 13 lengths, and is seen in some quarters as a Champion Hurdle dark horse.
With a rating of 156, opportunities are few and far between, but he faces two rivals he should beat comfortably today.
Mullins is keen to get a run under Un De Sceaux's belt before letting him test his powers against some of the big guns in the two-mile division.
Mullins said: "It was very hard to find an opening for him where he wouldn't have to be taking on Champion Hurdle candidates on just his third run over hurdles.
"It's important to win races. It's better for him to win this than finish third or fourth somewhere else. We're keen to take our time with him and I hope he can make the most of this opportunity."
Un De Sceaux, available at a general 25/1 for Cheltenham in March, concedes 7lb to his two opponents.
Rory O'Moore was fifth at Fairyhouse last week and is officially rated 30lb inferior to the Mullins runner.
Our Ollie makes his first competitive appearance since finishing second in a Sligo handicap hurdle in May of last year.
Meanwhile, Our Conor satisfied connections in a post-racing gallop at Navan yesterday.
Danny Mullins received the leg-up aboard the leading Champion Hurdle contender, which worked alongside stablemates Lyreen Legend and Guitar Pete ahead of his return to action in the Ryanair Hurdle.
Trainer Dessie Hughes said: "He worked nicely and he needed that -- I'd be happy anyway. We'll keep him ticking over now and he's ready (to run again) now."
Owner Barry Connell said: "He worked well and he pulled well clear of the other two. I'm happy with him and he's fit and well -- he likes that ground. We knew he'd go well because he'd been going well at home. He's in good old nick."
Our Conor was a runaway winner of the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in March but has only been seen once since then, when fourth on the Flat at Naas in October.
At Haydock yesterday, Special Catch looked a handicap blot in the nationwidevehiclecontracts.co.uk handicap hurdle and so it proved for the 11/8 favourite.
Keith Reveley's six-year-old had finished close up behind subsequent Relkeel Hurdle winner More Of That on his last start and though James Reveley had to keep him up to his work to beat Art Professor, it was pretty straightforward in the end.
"His form had been franked and he looked the best horse in the race," said James Reveley. "He might go up enough to get into something like the Betfair at Newbury or the Lanzarote (Kempton)."
The Philip Hobbs-trained Sausalito Sunrise (4/1) saw out the trip well to defeat Matthew Riley in the One Stop Energy Race Day Hurdle in the hands of Tom O'Brien.