Capodanno indicated the strength of Willie Mullins’ hand in the Gold Cup when running out a comfortable winner of the Paddy Power Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham.

No match for stablemate and current Gold Cup holder Galopin Des Champs at Christmas when a distant third, he was taking on most of the best of the British challenge in the Grade Two event, including the smart novice Stay Away Fay.

The Real Whacker, a Festival winner as a novice last season, took the field along to halfway when Ahoy Senor, winner of the race 12 months ago, nudged up his inside and began to put some pressure on.

Stay Away Fay, Royale Pagaille and then Capodanno (7-2) all moved up menacingly at one point or another, with almost all five in a line approaching the second last.

The Real Whacker cracked first and then unfortunately Stephen Mulqueen suffered a tack malfunction on Ahoy Senor.

With Stay Away Fay outpaced, Capodanno and Paul Townend pulled clear and went on to beat a staying-on The Real Whacker by two and three-quarter lengths.

There was a sad postscript to the race as Coral Gold Cup winner Datsalrightgino sustained a fatal injury when falling early on.

Hopes of a third Ryanair Chase win for the brilliant Allaho have been dashed for the second year in succession after connections were again forced to rule him out of the Cheltenham Festival.

The Willie Mullins-trained 10-year-old carried the colours of Cheveley Park Stud to stunning Ryanair wins in 2021 and 2022, but missed the entirety of last season through injury.

He made a successful return from 19 months on the sidelines in the Clonmel Oil Chase in November and while he had to make do with minor honours in third when favourite for the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day, he bounced back to winning ways when notching a third triumph in last week’s Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles.

That 13-length victory saw Allaho cement his place at the head of ante-post lists for this year’s Ryanair Chase on March 14, but he will not be making the trip to Prestbury Park.

Chris Richardson, Cheveley Park’s managing director, told the PA news agency: “Allaho was found to be lame after his race at Thurles and it’s been diagnosed as a strained hock, so he’s going to require several weeks rest and recuperation and therefore sadly misses Cheltenham.

“It’s very frustrating, as it was good to see him return to form the other day, but he wasn’t 100 per cent afterwards and we’re just going to have to give him the time, I’m afraid.”

Paul Townend hit back with a treble of his own at Fairyhouse in his effort to keep tabs on Jack Kennedy in the battle to be champion jockey.

Kennedy moved 19 clear with a four-timer at Down Royal on Tuesday but just 24 hours later that was back down to 16, as Townend partnered three of his boss Willie Mullins’ four winners at the rescheduled meeting.

Spread Boss Ted (2-5 favourite) had to be ridden right out to justify cramped odds in the Easter Festival March 30th – April 1st Novice Hurdle, in which Kennedy’s mount Binge Worthy was a bitter disappointment and finished a tailed off last of four.

“I went out to settle him and thought I was after doing too good of a job at halfway!” said Townend.

Spindleberry (5-2) looked the Mullins second string in the HAY “How Are Ya” Campaign Mares Maiden Hurdle behind the Mark Walsh-ridden Jolie Coeur Allen but she was an impressive winner, with the favourite only third.

“Coming off a break, that will knock the freshness out of her and she showed a very willing attitude to stay going after being as keen as she was for the first mile of the race,” said Townend.

“She’s lightly-raced too and only had one run in a bumper, so I think she’ll improve away.”

O’Moore Park (8-11 favourite) brought up Townend’s treble with a nine-length win in the Fairyhouse Supporting Treo Eile Maiden Hurdle.

Townend said: “He benefitted from the run the last day, which knocked the freshness out of him and brought him on.

“He’s a chaser – he’s no respect for a hurdle when he meets one wrong.

“On that ground, to pick up like he did when I gave him a squeeze at the back of the last was nice. He’s progressing away and is going to be a chaser.

“I think he can go further.”

Walsh did get on the scoresheet himself when Mirazur West (8-11 favourite), a full-brother to high-class-but-fragile stablemate Ferny Hollow, won the Easter Festival Early Bird Maiden Hurdle.

There was a sad postscript to the race, with Gordon Elliott’s D B Cooper, the winner’s main market rival, suffering a fatal injury.

Mirazur West was left unchanged at 14-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle by Paddy Power and Betfair.

“He’s still learning and settled a lot better today than he did in Leopardstown,” said Walsh.

“He’s well able to jump, there is no issue with that anyway, it’s just keeping him relaxed.

“I only found out when I pulled up that Jack’s horse had gone wrong. It takes away from the race and is very unfortunate.”

Paul Townend will have an enviable book of rides at the Dublin Racing Festival as he seeks to find the top novice prospects to partner alongside proven stars.

The two-day meeting was created in 2018 and has quickly become a real highlight of the National Hunt calendar, with eight Grade One races across the weekend including the Irish Gold Cup and Irish Champion Hurdle.

Willie Mullins is guaranteed to field a powerful team of horses and as stable jockey, Townend has the pick of the bunch when it comes to selecting his rides.

In the novice ranks, where horses are yet to assert themselves in a clear hierarchy, this leaves the rider with a few tricky choices to make as the meeting, run on February 3 and 4, approaches.

“I’m trying to sit on as many as I can and see what’s going well,” he said.

“Especially the novices, because they can step forward so much, like the two-mile novice hurdle that was run at Christmas as an example (Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle).

“We’re still in the dark about what probably is our best. Daddy Long Legs didn’t turn up on the day. He could win at Leopardstown in February and he didn’t show up at all at Christmas. I thought I’d know a bit more coming out of Christmas, and I don’t.”

Another example the rider offers is El Fabiolo, a 10-length winner of the Goffs Irish Arkle last season when Townend had opted to ride the third-placed Appreciate It instead.

He said: “Then there’s the novice chasers. Last year, El Fabiolo showed up, I chose the wrong one. Novices can progress at different rates.”

Though there is this element of the unknown with less experienced horses, Townend generally views it as a positive rather than a negative as runners can improve significantly and sometimes unexpectedly as they progress.

“When they do something you’re not expecting it’s fantastic,” he said.

“The other side is the disappointment of the one you think is going to build and keep building throughout the year and it just peters out.

“At the very start of my career, as an 18-year-old, I had Hurricane Fly winning my first Grade One in the Royal Bond. So I probably always loved what might happen with the novices.”

While there will be decisions to be made regarding his novice rides, there is no question Townend will partner proven top horses like State Man and Galopin Des Champs.

State Man, a favourite of Townend’s, is odds-on for the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle, a race he won by nearly five lengths from Honeysuckle last season.

“He just turns up every time. You can rely on him,” he said.

“You can make the running if nothing else will or you can sit in behind. He just shows up and runs his race most of the time.

“He jumps, he gallops and he tries hard for you. I just get a great kick out of winning on him, I must say, and doing it for the Donnellys (owners) adds to that.”

Galopin Des Champs returned to winning ways in the Savills Chase after two beaten runs behind Fastorslow previously, and Townend is confident the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup winner can hold his own to retain his Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup title.

“He’s doing well and everything has gone well since the Savills Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas,” he said.

“He probably had a little bit to prove that day after losing twice, although we never lost faith in him and he was showing us all the same things at home. But that performance was as good as anything he had ever done before and if he were to repeat that every day, that would be good enough for me!

“It will be a strong race for definite and Fastorslow is obviously a big danger again but there hasn’t been all that much between them in the Punchestown Gold Cup and the John Durkan. I’d be confident if Galopin is firing, he would take all the beating.”

Mystical Power puts his unbeaten record on the line when he leads Willie Mullins’ quest for a record-extending 10th victory in Punchestown’s Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle.

Mullins has won this Grade Two event with some of the Closutton greats down the years, with the likes of Vautour, Douvan, Min and last year’s champion Impaire Et Passe all featuring on the roll of honour.

Now it is the regally-bred Mystical Power who has the chance to lay down a marker and put himself in the Cheltenham Festival picture in a race that has often identified prime Prestbury Park candidates.

Owned by JP McManus, the Galileo gelding is the first progeny of Champion Hurdle heroine Annie Power to hit the track and has lived up to his impeccable breeding so far, following up a Ballinrobe bumper victory with a seven-length romp on hurdles debut at Galway in the summer.

The five-year-old now returns after a 167-day break with connections keen to learn more about their exciting prospect, as he steps up markedly in class.

“Willie is very happy with him and we’re hoping for a good run,” said McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry.

“He won his novice and he’s been thrown in there, but he’s in good form and we hope for a good performance.

“He won nicely the day he won at Galway and probably the race didn’t work out that well. But he’s had a bit of a break after that and we’ll learn a bit more about him on Sunday.

“Willie has another in there as well, but ours is in good form and we’re hoping for a good run.”

Mullins has a second string to his bow in the form of Thurles winner Lombron, who is the mount of Paul Townend, while former Closutton inmate and 2022 Champion Bumper third James’s Gate will be bidding to step forward from his Leopardstown debut for new handler Martin Brassil.

Felix Desjy and Andy Dufresne gave Gordon Elliott back-to-back Moscow Flyer victories in 2019 and 2020 and the master of Cullentra House goes for win number three with the Bective Stud-owned Jigoro, who was a taking nine-length scorer in heavy ground at Navan last month.

Elliott said: “He’s in good form and it’s a good race. He’d a good performance the last day in Navan. I’m happy with him.”

Tom Mullins’ useful bumper performer Fascile Mode was a winner over track and trip earlier in the season, but now has a point to prove having disappointed in Grade One company the last twice.

Readin Tommy Wrong was a surprise winner of the Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle as Willie Mullins sent out the first three home.

The six-year-old came into the race unbeaten under rules but still looked a lesser light for the trainer in the Grade One, as Ile Atlantique, Chapeau De Soleil and Lecky Watson were more fancied in the betting.

Under a patient ride from Daryl Jacob, the winner travelled at the rear of the field, beginning to gain ground rapidly two furlongs from home, having started at 16-1.

He then locked horns with 6-4 favourite Ile Atlantique on the approach to the line but the outsider toughed it out to lead home the Mullins one-two-three, with 14-1 Lecky Watson the third-placed horse.

Quilixios was much the best to take the BetVictor Irish EBF Novice Chase at Naas, in which the well-regarded Mister Policeman could only finish third.

The latter was the 8-15 favourite for Willie Mullins after winning both Irish starts in good style, including his chasing debut at Fairyhouse in November.

It was assumed there was more to come from him – but it was Henry de Bromhead’s 5-1 shot Quilixios, well beaten when last seen in the Florida Pearl, who moved with most menace in the five-runner field.

On the turn from home Rachael Blackmore pulled clear and was chased but never threatened by Gordon Elliott’s Sa Fureur, as Mister Policeman was a remote third after struggling from some way out.

“He was really good, jumped brilliant, travelled well and we couldn’t have really asked for any more,” De Bromhead said of the former Triumph Hurdle hero.

“He jumped a bit right in Limerick (chase debut) and we were concerned about that, but no sign of it here.

“He has loads of gears and is a Triumph Hurdle winner. He’s a class horse.

“We got the trip wrong the last day. He wouldn’t blow you away with speed at home, but those good two-milers have such a high cruising speed. Sizing Europe was the same and so was Special Tiara.

“He’s in the Irish Arkle, but we’ll speak with everyone at Cheveley (Park Stud, owners) and see where we go.

“I’d say he’ll have to go to the Arkle (at Cheltenham) now.”

Betfair halved Quilixios’ odds for Cheltenham, making him 25-1 for the Arkle from a previous price of 50-1.

Judicieuse Allen could be set for a step up in class on her next start having shown a blistering turn of foot when making a winning start for trainer Willie Mullins over the Christmas period.

A €100,000 buy, the five-year-old was sourced by Valentine Bloodstock’s Ed Partridge in partnership with Thurloe Thoroughbred’s Jess Stafford from French handler Gabriel Leenders and was bred by Bruno Vagne, the man responsible for producing Grade One and Cheltenham Festival champions Espoir D’Allen and Envoi Allen.

Sent off the 6-5 favourite for her eagerly-awaited first start in the Thurloe Thoroughbred silks at Limerick, she produced a performance full of potential as she sprinted home at a rate of knots in the hands of Adrian Heskin to claim first prize close to the line.

Delighted with the result, connections can now look forward to the future, with a possible outing in Fairyhouse’s SBK Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle on January 27 raised as an option by her trainer.

“She has come out of the race OK – which is the main thing – and I think the plan is to run her at the end of the month at Fairyhouse,” said Thurloe’s James Stafford.

“It’s very early days, but she showed a nice turn of foot that day (at Limerick) and I don’t think it was just other horses stopping. I think she finished quite well having got into a bit of trouble.

“She’s a nice mare and there’s definitely ability there. She showed a bit in France before we bought her and she certainly showed her turn of foot at Limerick. I was very pleased and Willie was pleased, which is the main thing.

“We are very pleased with her, but it is still early days – it was only her first run so we must not get too carried away.

“We haven’t had a long-term discussion with Willie about it, but the Solerina was mooted and that is where we are at the moment. But the fact he is even considering it is quite a good sign. Willie will decide, but the end of the month is definitely something we have on the radar.”

Although at the early stages of hopefully a long and fruitful career, Judicieuse Allen is already a part of Closutton folklore having been part of Mullins’ fantastic across-the-card seven-timer at Limerick and Leopardstown on December 27.

It was Judicieuse Allen that kick-started that fabulous afternoon for the master trainer, who expressed his delight at seeing the Thurloe youngster find the scoresheet.

Stafford added: “Willie sent me a very nice message after the race when he was having winners all over the place – he had seven winners that day.

“I called her one of his magnificent seven and I think she set the ball rolling. I got a very nice message saying how thrilled he was and he wouldn’t have done that just for the sake of it.”

Jade De Grugy could put her Cheltenham Festival aspirations to the test at Fairyhouse later this month following an impressive debut for Willie Mullins at Leopardstown.

The five-year-old was snapped up for €230,000 after winning at Saint-Brieuc in late 2022, and after a 452-day absence finally made her first start for her Closutton training team and new owner Kenny Alexander over the festive period.

Sent off the 5-4 favourite in the hands of Paul Townend for a two-and-a-half-mile maiden hurdle, Jade De Grugy delivered a blistering display, making light work of her rivals to romp home by 15 lengths.

She is now poised for a step up in class for her next start, with Fairyhouse’s SBK Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle on January 27 seen as one possible spot where Jade De Grugy can tune-up for a shot at the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle in the spring.

“She was very impressive,” said Alexander’s racing manager Peter Molony.

“We are not sure what she beat, but what she did was very good and Paul was very impressed with her – we are quite excited about her.

“Every option will be open, but something like the Solerina at the end of the month might be something for her.

“If she progresses in the right direction you would be dreaming of the Mares’ Novices’ at Cheltenham. It’s what we’re thinking of at the moment and hoping for.”

Mullins also unleashed another exciting prospect in the colours of Alexander during Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival with French import Kargese finishing second in the Grade Two Mercedes-Benz South Dublin Juvenile Hurdle.

It was the same position Gala Marceau filled in the race on stable bow 12 months ago and Kargese will seek to repeat Gala Marceau’s Grade One winning exploits in her next start at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Molony added: “We were happy with her, she just didn’t settle great on the day. Considering that, she ran very well and the winner had had two runs already so again we’re quite excited about her.

“Hopefully all going well she goes to the Dublin Racing Festival and if things progress well, we will dream of a go at the Triumph Hurdle.”

Dual Grade One scorer Gala Marceau could make her belated return at Doncaster later this month, as connections have their sights set on the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The five-year-old was a star performer for trainer Willie Mullins and owner Kenny Alexander last season, finishing no worse than third in five starts and tasting big-race success at both the Dublin Racing Festival and at Auteuil in the Prix Alain du Breil.

She was also a fine second to stablemate and regular foe Lossiemouth in the Triumph Hurdle before finishing a place further back in third behind that rival at the Punchestown Festival.

Having finished off her season excelling when upped to two and a half miles in France, connections believe the Mares’ Hurdle over a similar distance is the ideal target for the Cheltenham Festival in March.

And Gala Marceau could use a well-trodden path to Prestbury Park by running in Doncaster’s Yorkshire Rose Mares’ Hurdle on January 27, a race Mullins has won with both Annie Power (2014) and Vroum Vroum Mag (2017) previously.

“We will possibly see her out towards the end of the month and there is a nice race at Doncaster that is being discussed,” said Peter Molony, racing manager to owner Alexander. “It’s a nice mares’ race, a Grade Two I think it is.

“The main aim would be the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham – that’s what we are thinking.

“The extra half a mile she will get at Cheltenham seemed to really play to her strengths at Auteuil and she was very impressive that day. We were all blown away to be honest.”

Alexander’s colours have of course been carried to Mares’ Hurdle success twice in the past by the great four-time Festival winner Honeysuckle.

Gala Marceau may struggle to match Honeysuckle’s exceptional career CV, but Molony feels she has more than done enough to advertise her quality during her first season with Mullins and has shown signs over the summer there could be plenty more to come.

He continued: “I’m not sure she will ever fill those boots, but she has done us proud so far and won us two Grade Ones.

“She’s not the biggest in the world, but she is as tough as nails and she has definitely grown with us over the summer and strengthened a bit by the time she went back to Willie’s. So we are very hopeful she can progress again.”

Last year’s winner Galopin Des Champs is one of 20 entries for the Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 15.

Trained by Willie Mullins, Galopin Des Champs came out on top in a terrific duel with Bravemansgame last season and the pair are on course to meet again.

Galopin Des Champs returned to winning ways at Leopardstown over Christmas with a spectacular display which propelled him back to the head of the betting, having suffered two defeats at the hands of the Martin Brassil-trained Fastorslow.

Brassil’s charge has also been entered for the blue riband this year, having gone close in handicap company at the Festival last season. He was a late absentee at Leopardstown.

Mullins has also entered the injury-plagued Monkfish, an impressive winner of the 2021 Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, but limited to just three starts since then.

Hewick, Shark Hanlon’s King George winner, Gerri Colombe, Envoi Allen and Gentlemansgame are others from Ireland with the option.

Gary Moore’s hugely-impressive Welsh National winner Nassalam is entered along with the Venetia Williams-trained pair of L’Homme Presse and Royale Pagaille.

Shishkin, so unlucky when coming down two from home in the King George, and Paul Nicholls’ novice Stay Away Fay are also in.

There are 19 entered in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase on March 13 in which last season’s first two from the Arkle, El Fabiolo and Jonbon, dominate the betting.

The pair are due to meet at Ascot in the Clarence House Chase later this month first.

Mullins has six contenders in total, including the now nine-year-old Ferny Hollow, who has not seen since December 2021, along with the mare Dinoblue and Appreciate It.

Boothill, Captain Guinness, Edwardstone and Editeur du Gite are others to note, with the last two runners also entered in the Ryanair Chase on March 14.

Mullins’ Allaho will be bidding for a third win in the race having gone close in the King George over Christmas. He is one of eight for the trainer, along with Sir Gerhard, in a total field of 32.

El Fabiolo, Fastorslow, Jonbon and Envoi Allen, winner of the race last season, are among those who have multiple options while Fugitif is in for Richard Hobson

Owner Brian Acheson believes Galopin Des Champs is the best horse since Kauto Star and has conceded his Gerri Colombe will be running for second place when he tackles Willie Mullins’ defending champion in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Galopin Des Champs was an imperious winner of the blue riband in March but had since suffered defeat twice at the hands of Martin Brassil’s Fastorslow, with Acheson’s Gerri Colombe emerging as a real Gold Cup contender when making a winning return at Down Royal.

The two talented stayers clashed for the first time at Leopardstown in the Savills Chase and with the Closutton Cheltenham hero back to his very best, Gerri Colombe was helpless as Galopin Des Champs romped to a brilliant 23-length success.

That shot the eight-year-old back to the top of the Gold Cup market, with Gerri Colombe eased to a best price of 11-1 with Unibet, and Acheson – who runs his horses under the Robcour banner – feels there is no way of turning the tables when they meet again at Prestbury Park in March.

He said: “Galopin is the best horse since Kauto Star and I’ve said it since the day of the Turners (Novices’ Chase, at Cheltenham). He is an absolute rocket, a weapon.

“We lost nothing in defeat and I don’t think there is a horse in training that can stay with him, he’s just a machine.

“You are running for second place. In the era where we don’t have enough good horses, if I didn’t have Gerri in the race, then you would love him to win by half the track just to make him look a superstar – and he is a superstar, I would love to own him.

“Hats off to him and it was actually an honour to run against him, he’s so good.

“We will take him on but there is only one winner.”

Acheson also outlined plans for his plethora of stars in the staying hurdle division.

Bob Olinger and Irish Point have both thrown their names into the mix with victories over the Christmas period, but it is last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle third Teahupoo who is currently carrying his owner’s main hopes following his second Hatton’s Grace success last month.

“Bob Olinger will be going to Aintree,” said Acheson. “If you had three horses, would you run three horses in the Stayers’?

“At the moment, I have two horses who could run in the Stayers’ and the one horse who is going there if he is fit and well is Teahupoo.

“Irish Point won well last week, but Home By The Lee didn’t run his race and Asterion Forlonge was a great horse but is a little bit older now.

“Teahupoo’s run against Impaire Et Passe was better form-wise, so he’s number one, but this French horse (Theleme) is meant to be a superstar.”

Fact To File impressed on his second start over fences in the Ballymaloe Relish Rising Stars Beginners Chase at Leopardstown.

Second in the Champion Bumper in March, Willie Mullins elected to skip a season over hurdles and send him straight over fences, something he has done with a degree of success in the past with the likes of Florida Pearl.

However, he was beaten on his initial run over the bigger obstacles by Gordon Elliott’s American Mike and appeared to face some classy rivals this time in stablemate Minella Cocooner and Zanahiyr, both big-race winners over hurdles.

Galopin Des Champs and Gentlemansgame had won the corresponding race for the past two seasons and Fact To File went off the 4-6 favourite to follow in their footsteps, doing so with aplomb, beating Zanahiyr by 17 lengths under Mark Walsh.

“He has Cheltenham bumper form from last year. He looks like a chaser, he certainly looked like one there, so we decided to skip his novice hurdle year and just go straight chasing,” said Mullins.

“Today is the reason that I hoped we’d be right.

“He’s a horse I’ve loved since the first day he came into the stable. I think he could go the whole way, with a bit of luck – you need a lot of luck in this game.”

Mullins’ Jade De Grugy was cut to 14-1 from 33s for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham following an impressive Irish debut in the Savills Maiden Hurdle.

Despite 16 runners, only two were ever involved, with Tom Cooper’s Butcher Hollow going with the eventual winner all the way to the second-last when her superiority took over and the 5-4 favourite pulled 15 lengths clear.

Paul Townend was on board and said: “She’s exciting, she did it nicely. I thought we built up down the back the second time and she stayed going well.

“She obviously stays well, the ground is testing there, and she has a lovely attitude. She jumped well and did everything nicely.

“I was going easy so I felt like I was dictating it a bit. I jumped one well down the back and Sean (Flanagan) came with me and pushed me from the last down the back from there home.”

Rachael Blackmore certainly earned her riding fee on Music Of Tara (7-2 favourite) who went two better than last year in the Irish Daily Star Handicap Hurdle.

Third behind Sam’s Choice 12 months ago, the Henry de Bromhead-trained mare was under pressure a long way from home but stayed on strongly to win by two lengths.

“I thought we were in trouble turning in, but she stayed on really well. She just doesn’t really travel, but she’s a really gutsy mare and Rachael was brilliant on her,” said De Bromhead.

“I’m delighted for the Achesons and the Shanahans (owners), it’s great to get it. We said we’d have a go at this and it’s nice when it works out.

“We might look at a Pertemps qualifier. She has to go left-handed, that’s one thing we have worked out.

“She looked all out turning in, but going to the last I thought by Rachael’s actions that she knew she had a fair chance.”

Daryl Jacob is extremely excited to be given the opportunity to ride Impaire Et Passe in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown on Friday.

Only four are due to go to post in the two-mile Grade One, and three of those are trained by Willie Mullins.

It is an event Mullins has farmed in recent years – since 2010 he has won all bar three renewals, with Hurricane Fly and Sharjah winning four apiece.

Last year the champion trainer was successful with State Man and he lines up once more as the choice of Paul Townend.

That meant the ride on last year’s hugely impressive Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle winner Impaire Et Passe was free and as retained rider to owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede in the UK, Jacob was in pole position.

Impaire Et Passe lost his unbeaten record on his seasonal return in the Hatton’s Grace, and Mullins has taken the decision to drop him in trip to two miles. But Jacob feels the testing ground will make it more of a stamina test.

“I’m very much looking forward to riding him. He’s a very exciting horse for Simon and Isaac and everyone and this is another step on the ladder for him,” said Jacob.

“He’s racing over two miles for the first time in a while, but I’ve been in Ireland all week and there has been a lot of rain.

“The hurdle course on Wednesday went soft then heavy, but he has handled that sort of ground, he’s won over further and he has got speed.

“He’s a hugely exciting horse and I’m very grateful for the opportunity, I can’t wait to ride him.

“I rode him out on Thursday morning, he seems in really good form and I really don’t see the ground being an issue at all.”

Jacob has enjoyed a particularly fruitful spell of late and is operating at a strike-rate of over 40 per cent for the past two weeks, and he would love to top it off with a Grade One.

“I’ve had a nice few winners of late, but a Grade One win before the new year would be lovely,” he said.

Understandably given his choice, Townend feels State Man sets the standard given the only horse who has finished in front of him when he has completed since joining Mullins is Constitution Hill.

He told his Ladbrokes blog: “He seems to set the standard this side of the water. His only defeat was by Constitution Hill last year. It’s interesting he’s being taken on by Impaire Et Passe.

“I thought Impaire Et Passe ran with a lot of credit in the Hatton’s Grace in Fairyhouse. He has a run under his belt and State Man won the Morgiana.

“It’s a big test, but State Man played at the top table all last season and sets the standard. The pair are sure to make a good race of it.”

Mullins also runs the mare Echoes In Rain, while Gordon Elliott’s Fils D’oudairies is the only other contender.

Caldwell Potter dented some lofty reputations with victory in the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown.

The Grade One contest has been won by a whole host of top-class performers in recent years, with Sizing John (2014), Appreciate It (2020) and Caldwell Potter’s ill-fated sibling Mighty Potter (2021) among those on the roll of honour.

Another quality renewal was in prospect, with Daddy Long Legs, fellow Willie Mullins representative Predators Gold and Gordon Elliott’s Down Memory Lane all protecting unbeaten records, but it was the latter trainer’s apparent second string who claimed top honours under Jack Kennedy.

A 6-1 shot following a comfortable victory at Navan on his most recent outing, Caldwell Potter took over from long-time leader Westport Cove leaving the back straight, with the supposed bigger guns waiting in the wings.

However, Predators Gold was the only horse able to go with Elliott’s grey turning for home and with a bad mistake at the final flight ultimately ending his challenge, Caldwell Potter was well on top as he passed the post with six and a half lengths in hand.

Down Memory Lane was a long way back in third, with Daddy Long Legs disappointingly pulled up.

Elliott said: “Jack just kept it simple and said he loved the ground. He galloped them into the ground. He’s a nice horse and loved the conditions.

“I wasn’t surprised, as he won well in Navan. We’ll enjoy today and then have a think about where we go next. I could see him stepping up in trip at some stage.”

Betfair gave the winner an 8-1 quote for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham next March, while Coral introduced him into their Ballymore betting at 12-1.

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