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Mullins set to make the grade with D'Haguenet

Former Cheltenham Festival hero Mikael D'Haguenet can secure a first graded victory since taking the Champion Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in 2009, when he tackles the Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas today.

Of Willie Mullins' eight-year-old's three rivals in this Grade Three, only Luska Lad is likely to pose any real danger. That one should be better for its latest outing in the Istabraq Hurdle at Leopardstown, but 'Shark' Hanlon's charge may need another sharpener.

A similarly small field of five goes to post for the programme's other graded contest, the Woodlands Park 100 Club Novice Chase. Raptor and Allee Garde, which fell and finished third respectively behind Last Instalment over Christmas, represent Mullins here.

While Raptor was still bang in contention when he crashed out at the third-last that day, Allee Garde is just preferred. The classy First Lieutenant was the only other horse to finish in front of him at Leopardstown and it is significant that Paul Townend has opted for him today.

Crash, fifth at Leopardstown, Four Commanders and Medical Card complete the field. Of that trio, Four Commanders, second to Sir Des Champs at Limerick last time, would be feared most on its first try at three miles since winning its sole point-to-point two years ago.

Townend can get what could be another good day for Mullins off on the right foot by taking the Irish National Hunt Stallion Owners Maiden Hurdle on the Leopardstown runner-up Marasonnien, with Davy Russell fancied to land the nap on the champion trainer's Midnight Game in the Irish Racing Writers Novice Hurdle. Dylan Ross, second to Cash And Go at the Foxrock venue, is the form choice here, but doesn't convince on heavy going.

If Tom Taaffe's smart Flat recruit Distant Memories improves his jumping after scoring at Limerick, he would have to go close, but Midnight Game appeals as a more solid option.

The Gigginstown Stud's runner denied Joxer without too much fuss last time and that form was shown in a positive light when Joxer got off the mark at Punchestown a week ago.

Irish Independent