Mullins charge can shine in battle of novice chasing stars at Leopardstown
Min takes on Identity Thief in the main event on day one of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival in a contest that should do wonders to clarify the picture in the two-mile novice chase division.
Min has the same trainer, owner and daddy as Douvan, though there is no suggestion that he is nearly as good as last year's winner. Then again, what is?
This is a somewhat quiet start to the four-day festival but pretty captivating from gate to wire. In particular, the juvenile hurdle will be one of the busyier betting heats of an enthralling afternoon in Foxrock.
12.15 Horse & Jockey Hotel Maiden Hurdle 2m
Willie Mullins supplied the Supreme Racing Club with a Grade One winner recently in the form of Airlie Beach, the enormous crowd around the mare in the winners' enclosure something rarely seen.
This axis now supplies a recruit off the Flat in Bunk Off Early which, like the highly-talented but now deceased Long Dog, joined this barn from Andy Oliver.
He stayed quite well on the level but also exhibited pace to win over shorter - perfect attributes for hurdling. However, Outspoken was a better horse on the Flat and has already jumped - albeit over a year ago when last seen.
Verdict: Bunk Off Early is a hopeful selection in a tricky renewal.
12.45 Thorntons Recycling Maiden Hurdle 2m 2f
A surprisingly small field here, and nevertheless a tricky little edition. Castello Sforza did not seem to have any real excuse when turned over on his hurdling debut, this high-class bumper horse beaten by the time they jumped the last in a decent race at Fairyhouse, and he may be worth taking on.
Barra came from France and met Castello Sforza's stablemate Invitation Only on his Irish bow. That one did not set the world alight since at Navan but, even so, Barra has the makings of a horse of Graded quality.
Felix Mendelssohn is a most intriguing recruit to jumping too, though this is a tough start, taking on such horses as the useful Joey Sasa.
Verdict: Quite a few could win this, even with the small field, and Barra is among them. He's a tentative pick.
1.15 Grade Two Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle 2m
Ireland should win the Triumph Hurdle this season - a comment rarely said - and the two juveniles with the best form, Fairyhouse first (Landofhopeandglory) and second (Bapaume) go to war again.
There is not a great deal to choose between them, especially as Landofhopeandglory had far more experience and recent action to his name going into the race.
However, Prospectus - a pretty cheap recent purchase off the Flat - could surprise them.
Gavin Cromwell, who does exceptionally well with jumpers, seemed a bit surprised by the ease of this one's win on his hurdling debut.
He just might be one of those somewhat limited sorts on the level which proves a different animal with a hurdle to keep him interested and that maiden form looks pretty strong.
Verdict: This race has an each-way make-up and Prospectus may offer a bit of value against the big two.
1.50 Cardinal Capital Handicap Hurdle 2m2f
On the face of it, Saint Anthony would struggle to find the winner of this race, but I believe if you open the drawer and have in-built pessimism about finding what you're looking for, you may miss it in front of your eyes.
Surely, Blast Of Koeman is better than a rating of 116, which - critically - is the ceiling figure here. As a bumper horse, he had really strong form in defeat and he was running a blinder at Clonmel when falling behind Crack Mome. He could have plenty in hand.
That said, tipping handicap debutants is rarely done with confidence and this is extremely competitive. Artful Artist is chucked in theoretically but again found a way to get beaten at Limerick.
The selection's stablemate Concordin has claims, while Dawerann is really solid.
Others worth market monitoring are Akorakor, Ange D'Or Javilex and Bashful Beauty.
Verdict: Likely Blast Of Koeman is better than this rating.
2.20 Grade One Racing Post Novice Steeplechase 2m 1f
In following up his maiden win, Altior did not impress all at Sandown, and a seed of hope was sewn in the camps of Identity Thief and Min, the big two in this.
Identity Thief is two from two chasing, the quality of his Punchestown performance clouded by the fog that ruined that day as a spectacle; Min did it easily at Navan, winning the race that Vautour and Douvan kicked off over fences in.
Though he was turned over in the Supreme, Min was a top novice hurdler, and he seems the type to make a more formidable chaser.
At a bigger price, Tully East is no hopeless case, and his Thurles win was quietly impressive, though the runner-up did nothing for the form since.
Verdict: Min might have too much toe for Identity Thief in a duel to savour.
2.55 'Bet Through The Racing Post App' Handicap Steeplechase 2m 1f
Speaking before Christmas, Gordon Elliott said that he felt Ball D'Arc did not get home over two-and-a-half miles at Navan, when a well-backed second. He did little wrong that day and, though 3lb higher, he is likely still ahead of the marksman.
Dysios, last year's winner, actually has 6lb less on his back now, while Jarry D'Honneur is surely far better than he showed on his seasonal return.
Verdict: This is a trappy event but Ball D'Arc is reliable and the distance should suit better. He must go close.
3.30 Lep Inn Flat Race 2m
Remarkably, Willie Mullins has no runner in this race, though he only won one of the last ten renewals.
The Gordon Elliott-trained Midnight Escape looks a lovely prospect, finishing third of 30 on his Rules debut in a classy Navan maiden hurdle in late November, and his rider Luke McGuinness is fine value for a 7lb claim.
Of the newcomers, Fly Rory Fly is perhaps of most allure.
Verdict: This could be stronger and Midnight Escape will be popular.