Sound surface can help Stars in hat-trick bid
WILLIE MULLINS believes a sound surface will bring out the best in Thousand Stars as he aims to clinch a French Champion Hurdle hat-trick at Auteuil tomorrow.
So often the bridesmaid behind brilliant stable companion Hurricane Fly on home soil, the admirable grey has enjoyed some fantastic days across the Channel, winning this Grade One event, officially known as the Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil, for the last two years.
He was beaten into fourth by the Paul Nicholls-trained Celestial Halo when chasing back-to-back victories in the Prix La Barka at the Paris track last month, but while the Ditcheat runner reopposes, Mullins hopes the less demanding conditions will help his charge bridge the gap.
"I think the longer trip will be a help to him and probably the better ground will suit him as well," said Ireland's champion trainer.
"I just don't think he handled the conditions the last day and as he's getting older, I think he's starting to prefer better ground.
"I'm happy with him going into the race, he seems in good form, so we'll see what happens."
Thousand Stars leads a three-pronged Mullins attack on the three-mile-one-furlong contest, with Zaidpour and On His Own also bound for the City of Love.
Zaidpour was a good fifth behind Thousand Stars 12 months ago, but was well beaten in the Prix La Barka.
Mullins said: "Like Thousand Stars, I don't think he really handled the conditions the last day. I believe it's forecast to be a wet day on Sunday, but we've had a dry week leading up to it and the ground won't be as bad as it was for the Prix La Barka.
"He seems well, he has run well at Auteuil before and if things go right, hopefully, he can pick up some of the good prize-money on offer."
On His Own is a fascinating contender, having fallen when a leading fancy for the last two renewals of the Grand National at Aintree. He lines up on the back of a fortunate win over hurdles at Sligo.
"He's had a light campaign and I just didn't want to be throwing him out in the field just yet," said Mullins. "He has run only three times over hurdles in his life and won twice, so we thought we'd let him travel and see how he matches up against these horses.
"He probably won't be to this level, but we'll see. He surprised me when he won his novice hurdle in Navan earlier in the year and I'm hoping he might surprise me again."
Joining the Mullins team on the trip from Ireland is Charles Byrnes' fantastic stable star Solwhit.
Winner of the World Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree this spring, the nine-year-old was withdrawn at the start on veterinary advice when set to bid for a Festival hat-trick at Punchestown.
The blood found on his nose turned out to be no more than a cut, and he heads to France with major claims.
Nicholls feels the step up in distance will help Celestial Halo improve on his superb performance in the Prix La Barka. It would be the first Grade One victory for the Ditcheat team since the recent appointment of Daryl Jacob as stable jockey.
Nicholls said: "He seems in great form and we're very much looking forward to it. It should be a great race.
"It's a very competitive contest, as you'd expect, but our horse deserves a crack at it after winning there last time.
"I think this longer trip will suit him even better and the ground is always soft at Auteuil, so I wouldn't be too worried about that."
Completing the raiding party is the Nick Williams-trained Reve De Sivola, winner of the Long Walk at Ascot and the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham last season before running well in defeat in both the World Hurdle and at Punchestown.
Abbey to swerve ascot
THREE-TIME Coronation Cup hero St Nicholas Abbey will bypass Royal Ascot and instead be targeted at the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at the same track in July.
The hugely talented six-year-old clinched the sixth Group One prize of his career with another superb performance on Epsom Derby day last weekend, after which connections mentioned Royal Ascot's Hardwicke Stakes as a possible next port of call.
However, the son of Montjeu will instead aim to secure further top-level honours in the King George, having finished a close third in the mile and a half contest last season.
O'Brien said: "St Nicholas Abbey has come out of the race at Epsom really well and we're looking forward to his next run."
Magician, a hugely impressive Irish 2,000 Guineas, is a likely runner in the St James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot.