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.

With Galopin Des Champs and Fastorslow renewing rivalry, and Gerri Colombe looking to cement his Cheltenham Gold Cup claims, this year’s Savills Chase promises to be one to savour.

In an era where blockbuster clashes are bemoaned as a disappointing rarity, the feature event on day three of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival serves up a tantalising treat, with the aforementioned trio currently occupying to the top three spots in the betting for the blue riband at Prestbury Park in March.

Add to that the defending champion Conflated, another former winner of the race and Gold Cup hero in A Plus Tard and the latter’s stablemate Envoi Allen, and you have what could be a race for the ages.

Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father Willie, summed it up perfectly when saying: “It’s probably the race of Christmas and the race of the year so far.”

The big hope for Team Mullins clan is, of course, Galopin Des Champs, who looked set to become the dominant force in the staying chase division after winning the John Durkan at Punchestown, Leopardstown’s Irish Gold Cup and the Cheltenham Gold Cup last season. But he will line up on Thursday having suffered back-to-back defeats.

Many considered his shock reverse at the hands of Martin Brassil’s Fastorslow in April’s Punchestown Gold Cup as a freak result at the end of a long season, but the latter went some way to dispelling that notion when handing the Mullins ace another short-priced beating in the John Durkan last month.

Galopin Des Champs was only third on that occasion and Patrick Mullins is hoping he can show his true colours on Thursday.

He said: “We’re looking for Galopin Des Champs to bounce back. He didn’t jump well in the John Durkan, but he’s schooled very well since.

“I think he ran very well at Punchestown considering how badly he jumped, so if he jumps better, he should be back to his best.

“Fastorslow has beaten us the last twice, so it’s for us to come and beat him, not the other way around. Fastorslow sits top of that division at the moment.

“Gerri Colombe is a hard horse to get a gauge on because he just does the bare minimum, but I’d think Leopardstown after all the rain will suit him very well.”

Galopin Des Champs is one of five declared runners for the champion trainer, with Appreciate It, I Am Maximus, Capodanno and Janidil also in the mix.

Appreciate It split Fastorslow and Galopin Des Champs in the John Durkan when ridden by Mullins junior, who feels he again warrants respect.

He added: “Appreciate It ran a cracker in the John Durkan and he’ll be better going this direction.

“It’ll be a very differently run race I’d imagine, but we’d be hoping that he can confirm that his last run is the level he’s at.”

Fastorslow is out to prove there was no fluke about his successive Grade One wins at Punchestown.

“He’s in great form and I’m delighted with him, very happy,” said Brassil.

Gerri Colombe won the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal on his first start outside novice company and while his trainer Gordon Elliott flirted with the idea of travelling to Kempton for a tilt at the King George on Boxing Day, he instead remains on home soil.

Conflated was not beaten far when third behind his stable companion at Down Royal, and a return to a track where he won both the Savills Chase and the Irish Gold Cup last year is clearly a positive.

A Plus Tard has looked a shadow of his former self since his scintillating victory in the 2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup, while Envoi Allen cannot be discounted after pushing Gerri Colombe to a neck last month.

Trainer Henry de Bromhead said: “Both are in good form and it will be nice to get A Plus Tard out again. He seems well at home and we’re hoping for a good run.

“We’re trying to find our form with him, we didn’t really see it last year but we didn’t get much opportunity to either.

“Envoi seems in great form. He ran a great race in Down Royal and if he ran something similar to that we’d be delighted.

“We could have done without the rain for both of them I suppose, but it is what it is.”

Dinoblue led home a one-two-three for trainer Willie Mullins and owner JP McManus in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown.

A field of five runners went to post for the Grade One contest, with Henry de Bromhead’s 6-4 favourite Captain Guinness the only outlier in an otherwise Closutton dominated line-up.

It was clear from a long way out that it was going to be a clean sweep for the champion trainer, with the market leader never able to get to grips with a strong pace and eventually pulled up by Rachael Blackmore in the back straight.

Gentleman De Mee was deployed in a front-running role, but he was a sitting duck at the top of the home straight, as stablemate Dinoblue moved into his slipstream under a motionless Mark Walsh.

Once given her head, the 9-4 shot soon pulled away and safely negotiated the final fence to score by seven and a half lengths.

Saint Roi was third, with the other Mullins runner Dysart Dynamo falling at the last.

“Gentleman De Mee set a great pace in front and jumped fantastic. I wondered at one stage would she (Dinoblue) be able to stay jumping with him but she held her jumping together,” said the trainer.

“When he took a blow, she kept galloping and she is improving all the time. I’m very happy with that.”

Dinoblue is the 11-4 favourite (from 7-2) with the sponsors for the Mrs Paddy Power Mares Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Facile Vega proved a bitter disappointment as Found A Fifty claimed Grade One honours in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown.

Having struck gold at the highest level in the bumper sphere and over hurdles, the Willie Mullins-trained Facile Vega was the 1-2 favourite to complete the set following a comfortable victory on his chasing debut at Navan last month.

With Paul Townend making the trip to Kempton to partner Allaho in the King George, Patrick Mullins was reunited with Facile Vega for the first time since he rounded off his unbeaten bumper campaign in the spring of 2022, but odds-on backers were ultimately left counting their losses.

Gordon Elliott’s Found A Fifty, who won on his fencing bow at Down Royal before chasing home I Am Maximus in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse three weeks ago, was unsurprisingly ridden aggressively by Jack Kennedy as he stepped back from two and a half miles to two miles and a furlong on the outskirts of Dublin.

The six-year-old showed a tendency to edge right at his fences, impeding Facile Vega on a couple of occasions, which prompted Patrick Mullins to switch inside racing down the back straight and he soon took over the lead.

Facile Vega looked to be travelling the better of the pair rounding the home turn, but while he faltered quickly to finish last of four runners, Found A Fifty kept galloping for Kennedy and passed the post with a length and a half in hand over My Mate Mozzie.

“He’s very quirky, but he’s got a massive engine,” Elliott said of the winner.

“To get a Grade One winner is brilliant as it looked like we were unlucky in Aintree (Farren Glory fell in Formby Novices’ Hurdle).

“Jack gave Found A Fifty a wonderful ride. He had to use his head everywhere as he even went to have a look at the rail after the first fence.

“He’s a good horse. He was actually the highest-rated novice chaser in England or Ireland coming into the race today but there is a quirk in him – most good ones have a little bit of a quirk.”

Elliott was also keen to praise his stable jockey, who has suffered more than his fair share of injuries in recent years.

The trainer added: “Jack is different class. He’s just a lovely fella. At home you wouldn’t even pick him out in the string. He’d ride a horse leg length and be nagging and twisting. He’s just a bit different.

“We’re very lucky to have him, holding onto him and keeping him in one piece now would be the problem.”

Ante-post favourite Allaho heads a field of six for the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Willie Mullins’ runner has won eight of his 13 chase starts to date, including two wide-margin Ryanair Chase verdicts and a similarly impressive Punchestown Gold Cup win in 2022.

He made a satisfactory return to action after a 561-day absence at Clonmel last month and is short price for the Christmas highlight.

Last year’s victor Bravemansgame returns to defend his title for Paul Nicholls, although his campaign has not gone to plan so far this term with the eight-year-old having suffered odds-on defeats in both the Charlie Hall at Wetherby and the Betfair Chase at Haydock.

Frodon, winner of the race in 2020, gives Nicholls a second string to his bow, with regular partner Bryony Frost taking the ride.

The Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin is also on something of a redemption mission as he makes his seasonal bow. He refused to start at Ascot last month while a planned Fighting Fifth Hurdle prep was scuppered by testing ground at Sandown.

The Real Whacker, winner of the Brown Advisory at Cheltenham last term, and Shark Hanlon’s Hewick complete the line up, with Gerri Colombe and Royale Pagaille absentees as expected.

Constitution Hill is the headline act in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle, which also has six contenders.

Henderson’s two-mile champion is long odds-on to extend his unbeaten run over obstacles, with the Nicholls-trained Rubaud the next best on ratings, albeit some 26lb behind.

The favourite will be joined by stablemate First Street, with Kerry Lee potentially double-handed with Black Poppy and Nemean Lion. Alan King’s Sceau Royal is the other runner.

Il Est Francais represents France in the Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase.

Trained by Noel George and Amanda Zetterholm, Il Est Francais has been a dominant force at home and has five rivals at Kempton, led by Nicholls’ Hermes Allen.

Giovinco, Kilbeg King, Marble Sands and Tightenourbelts also line up, with no Irish representation after Mullins and Gordon Elliott did not declare Grangeclare West, Klassical Dream or Imagine respectively.

Allaho, Gerri Colombe and last year’s winner Bravemansgame are among eight confirmations for the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Willie Mullins sprang a surprise in the race two years ago with Tornado Flyer but that was his first triumph in the race since Florida Pearl in 2001 and in Allaho he has strong claims of a second success in three years.

A dual Ryanair Chase winner, Allaho was being aimed at the three-mile contest last year but picked up an injury which ruled him out of the whole campaign. He returned to action with a win in the Clonmel Oil Chase.

Gerri Colombe has only met with defeat once in his career, at last season’s Cheltenham Festival behind The Real Whacker, and the two are on course to clash again.

Only a short head separated them there but their fortunes have differed wildly since, with Gerri Colombe winning two Grade Ones at Aintree and Down Royal, while The Real Whacker was pulled up in the Paddy Power Gold Cup – having struck into himself.

Paul Nicholls’ Bravemansgame has yet to win a race since his victory 12 months ago. He went out on his shield in the Cheltenham Gold Cup but has been surprisingly beaten in the Charlie Hall and Betfair Chase this season.

He will be joined by stable companion Frodon, winner of the race in 2020.

Shishkin is the unknown quantity in the field after refusing to start at Ascot recently. He proved his stamina for three miles at Aintree in the spring but the lack of a recent run is a concern for his trainer Nicky Henderson.

Shark Hanlon’s Hewick and Venetia Williams’ Royal Pagaille, winner of the Betfair Chase, complete the eight.

Constitution Hill will face a maximum of five rivals in the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle.

The best National Hunt horse in training will be making his seasonal bow, with his intended comeback in the Fighting Fifth frozen off before Henderson deemed the ground too soft a week later when it was rearranged at Sandown.

His stablemate First Street, Black Poppy and Nemean Lion, both trained by Kerry Lee, Nicholls’ Rubaud and the veteran Sceau Royal are his only possible rivals.

The Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase is due to feature the UK debut of Il Est Francais, trained by Noel George and Amanda Zetterholm in France.

However, he faces far from an easy task, with Nicholls’ Hermes Allen, Gordon Elliott’s Imagine, the Mullins pair of Grangeclare West and Klassical Dream and Lucinda Russell’s Giovinco all potential rivals among nine entries.

Sa Fureur profited from the final fence exit of red-hot favourite Hunters Yarn to open his account over fences in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase at Fairyhouse.

The top-class pair of Blue Lord and El Fabiolo had landed the last two runnings of the extended two-mile contest for trainer Willie Mullins, jockey Paul Townend and owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, and Hunters Yarn was a 1-3 shot to make it a hat-trick for all concerned on his chasing bow.

A three-time bumper winner and twice successful over hurdles, Hunters Yarn looked to have victory in the bag after cruising to the front but blundered badly and crashed out at the last obstacle.

Gordon Elliott’s Sa Fureur, who had fallen on his fencing bow behind Mullins-trained star Facile Vega at Navan four weeks ago, was left in splendid isolation following Hunters Yarn’s tumble and came home with 40 lengths in hand over the eventual runner-up Byker under Jack Kennedy.

“He was a fortunate winner, but he was going to be a nice second and was running a good race,” Elliott said afterwards.

“I just hope the faller is okay, we had a bit of luck on our side – if you haven’t luck at this game, you have nothing.

“Jack said he showed a good attitude. We’ll probably look at one of those rated novice chases, or we could step him into a handicap.”

Elliott and Kennedy doubled up in the Hytech EQ Ultra 3-Y-O Maiden Hurdle, with Pacini justifying 5-4 favouritism with relative ease.

The three-year-old set the standard on jumping form, after finishing fifth and fourth respectively on his first two attempts, and he made it third time lucky with a six-and-a-half-length verdict.

Elliott added: “It looked like a grand opportunity and he did it well.

“He’s been working well at home and we fancied him the first day, he just got a fright. He jumped a lot better there today and he stayed going well. He’s going to win his races.”

Kennedy ended the afternoon with a treble after steering Ted Walsh’s 10-1 shot Pictures Of Home to a head victory in the Tote Always SP Or Better @Fairyhouse Handicap Hurdle.

Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore combined to land the Lacey’s Plumbing & Heating Supplies Maiden Hurdle with 7-2 chance Chigorin.

O’Moore Park, the 4-6 favourite to make a winning comeback after 596 days off the track, was ultimately a little disappointing in finishing third.

De Bromhead’s assistant, Robbie Power, said of the winner’s display: “We’re delighted with that. He stepped forward nicely from Naas, we thought he wanted three miles and he’s proved us right.

“He’s still learning, the penny is only starting to drop with him now, so hopefully he can keep improving.

“He’s an out-and-out stayer and you won’t see the best of him until he goes chasing. He’s a fine, big, strong horse and he’ll be a nice one to look forward to next season.”

Allaho will bid to provide Cheveley Park Stud with another big-race victory at Kempton on Boxing Day after being confirmed an intended runner in the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase.

While better known as a major force on the Flat, the owners have enjoyed huge success over jumps in recent years, with the Gold Cup triumph of A Plus Tard the obvious highlight of several winners at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Willie Mullins-trained Allaho is a dual winner at Prestbury Park, having twice dominated his rivals in the Ryanair Chase, while he proved his stamina for the three-mile distance of the King George with another sensational performance in the 2022 Punchestown Gold Cup.

The nine-year-old missed the whole of last season through injury – but having proved his well-being with a comeback win in the Clonmel Oil Chase last month, Cheveley Park Stud director Richard Thompson is looking forward to seeing him line up in one of National Hunt racing’s most prestigious races.

“That (King George) is the plan and has been the plan for a while. I said to Willie to do whatever he thinks and it’s his decision,” said Thompson.

“He was obviously off the track for a year and a half. He’s been a brilliant horse for us and you’d hope that he’s going to be in good enough shape to compete and do a decent job.

“He’s been a fantastic horse, it will be great to be there and it’s very exciting.”

Thompson admits Allaho’s comeback victory over just two rivals at Clonmel was more solid than spectacular and is keeping his fingers crossed he can show his true brilliance in the King George.

He added: “He won the Ryanair in 2021, the Ryanair in 2022 and the Punchestown Gold Cup in 2022, and in between times he put in that performance in the John Durkan in 2021, which I think it’s fair to say was a bit workmanlike.

“He wasn’t the Allaho that he was in either of the Ryanairs or in the Punchestown Gold Cup that day, but he still won another Grade One.

“Who knows what will happen at Kempton, but it’s great to be in the race. I appreciate every single one of our Grade Ones, especially the amazing Grade Ones, and the King George is definitely one of those.

“There are Grade Ones and there are Grade Ones – and this is a proper Grade One.”

The remarkable patience of Elixir D’Ainay’s connections was rewarded as he made a triumphant return from almost four years on the sidelines in the William Hill Lengthen Your Odds Hurdle at Punchestown.

The JP McManus-owned gelding proved his ability in his first season with Willie Mullins during the 2019/20 campaign, notably chasing home Envoi Allen in a Grade One at Naas before falling two flights from home in the 2020 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham won by Shishkin.

Despite a mammoth absence totalling 1372 days, Elixir D’Ainay was a 4-5 favourite for his comeback in County Kildare and showed at least some of his talent remains intact with a comfortable victory.

Ridden by Mark Walsh, the nine-year-old looked to have a race on his hands after being chased into the home straight by Whimsy, but he knuckled down after the final flight to repel that challenge by two and a quarter lengths.

McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry said: “Willie had him entered in a chase and I’d presume that’s the road he’ll go down from here.

“It’s lovely to get him back and that was a lovely race to find for him. We’ll be happy now if the wheels stay on.

“He’s a fine, big horse and his form was very good around the time he got injured. It’s lovely to see him back and credit to all of Willie’s team.”

Elixir D’Ainay was one of three winners on the card for the champion trainer, with Paul Townend steering Embassy Gardens (8-11) and Blizzard Of Oz (5-4) to short-priced victories in the beginners chase and maiden hurdle respectively.

Townend was particularly impressed with Embassy Gardens’ jumping, saying: “He’s brilliant, when you’re riding him, you’d be encouraged to keep asking him everywhere but on that ground you can’t.

“It was the perfect introduction, he relaxed and jumped well. I didn’t have to be too hard on him but going around on that ground will take a bit out of them anyway.

“He raced properly with me today. He was too keen when he ran in the Albert Bartlett in Cheltenham, but I lit him up early. Today was just about getting him to do things right and he did, he couldn’t have done any more.

“He has loads of scope for the big one and he was a joy to ride. Hopefully, this will be his year.”

Jimmy Mangan’s Spillane’s Tower won the opening William Hill Ireland Rated Novice Chase for the McManus-Walsh combination.

Fourth behind the top-class Facile Vega at Navan last month, the five-year-old was the 9-4 favourite to make it third time lucky over fences in this lower grace and got the better of a duel with Firm Footings to do just that by a head.

“He had two great runs and he delivered today, so it was great,” said Mangan.

“It turned out to be a sprint, they went very handy for the first mile. He has a bit of class, he’s not too slow. I’ll be speaking to Mark and I’ll see what they want to do with him.”

Gordon Elliott’s point-to-point graduate Kish Bank (4-5 favourite) made a winning debut under rules in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Auction (Pro/Am) Flat Race, with Harry Swan in the saddle.

Elliott said: “He’s a grand horse. To be honest, I was kind of nervous about running him because he ran in a point-to-point a few weeks ago.

“He’s a horse for the future, a big horse and we’ll put him away now until next year. You might see him run in a graded hurdle or something but he won’t do much this season, as he’s a massive horse.”

El Fabiolo begins on a well-trodden path to the Queen Mother Champion Chase when kicking off his season in the Bar One Racing Hilly Way Chase at Cork on Sunday.

His trainer Willie Mullins has won the race a record 14 times, with Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Chacun Pour Soi and Energumene amongst the Closutton alumni to claim this prize en route to the Cheltenham Festival.

Energumene used this as his starting point in both of his Champion Chase-winning seasons, but with his injury setback putting respective hat-trick bids on hold, the door has been opened for El Fabiolo to fill the void.

Unbeaten as a chaser, the six-year-old registered a brilliant Grade One treble last season, winning at the Dublin, Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals in supreme fashion – and he is already dominating the ante-post betting for the Champion Chase in March.

“He was unbeaten over fences last season and this looks a nice starting point for the new campaign,” said Anthony Bromley, racing manager to El Fabiolo’s owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede.

“It’s been Willie’s plan from quite a long way out really, to go for this race, and we’re excited to see him back out.

“It’s really good prize-money for a Grade Two. He has got the entry in the Grade One at Christmas and we’ll get the Hilly Way out of the way first, but it could be coming a bit close.

“We’ll just see how he comes out of the race, but it’s all systems go for Sunday. It’s a tried and tested route for Willie – he tries to run his best two-miler in it, and hopefully El Fabiolo might be that now with Energumene on the sidelines.”

El Fabiolo’s opposition includes a former Closutton stablemate in Jungle Boogie, who is one of two in the race for new handler Henry de Bromhead, alongside convincing Grand Annual victor Maskada.

Barberstown Castle Chase runner-up Fil Dor represents the flying Gordon Elliott team, with Gavin Cromwell’s Grand National runner-up Vanillier and Patrick Foley’s Rebel Gold also taking part.

“We were delighted with Fil Dor at Naas and he’s in good form ahead of Sunday,” said Elliott.

“Naas was his first run of the season and his first run back over fences, so there was a lot of positives but obviously we are taking on a very good horse in El Fabiolo.

“Our lad is in good form, has a run under his belt and there is no point in shying away from one horse. Hopefully he’ll run well.”

Elsewhere on the card, there could be success for Mullins when Grade One-winning hurdler Zenta makes her chasing bow in the Grade Two O’Flynn Group Irish EBF Mares Novice Chase.

The four-year-old hardly put a foot wrong last term, winning at Fairyhouse on her stable debut before finishing third to Lossiemouth in the Triumph Hurdle and then achieving her own big-race victory at Aintree.

“It’s a nice race to start off with and Willie is happy with her, so let’s hope she jumps a good round and goes well,” said owner JP McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry.

“She’s been very consistent and it was great to get the Grade One with her in the spring. We’re hoping for a good round and for her to run well.”

Zenta faces stern opposition from within her own stable, with Paul Townend partnering wide-margin Killarney winner Hauturiere and the Kenny Alexander-owned Heia also engaged.

Harmonya Maker made a blistering start to her chasing career at Gowran Park and represents Elliott, with Con O’Keeffe’s Silent Approach completing the line-up.

“We couldn’t have asked for more from Harmonya Maker at Gowran and she’s in good form,” Elliott said. “This was the next obvious race for her and we’ll see where we go from here for the rest of the season with her.”

In the Grade Three Singletons Supervalu Stayers Novice Hurdle, big-money buy Mahon’s Way will look to build on an impressive debut over timber at Naas for De Bromhead.

Janidil bids to escape the clutches of some of Ireland’s best chasers when he pays a visit to Huntingdon for the TrustATrader Peterborough Chase.

Willie Mullins’ raider is a regular in Grade One events on home soil and was handed the formidable task of facing Allaho on his seasonal return in the Clonmel Oil Chase.

However, connections now hope to have found the nine-year-old the perfect opportunity to register a seventh victory of his highly-respectable career when he crosses the Irish Sea for this Grade Two contest.

“It looked a nice race for him and there wasn’t going to be too many runners,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.

“He’s in good form and this looked the ideal race for him. He’s ran into a few good horses in the last few seasons, but Willie is happy with him and we’re looking for a good run.”

With Edwardstone headed to the Tingle Creek, with this race only an emergency option in case of weather woes, Janidil’s chief threat could be provided by First Flow, who won the 2021 renewal before finishing third 12 months ago.

Kim Bailey’s 11-year-old chased home the high-class Boothill at Ascot on his return and his handler feels conditions are ideal for a bold bid.

He said: “I’m very happy with him and David (Bass, jockey) has schooled him this week and was happy. He will get his ground, which will be a big difference for him this time and hopefully he will run a big race.

“I would have to say it was probably as good a run as he’s ever done (behind Boothill at Ascot). It might sound stupid at the age of 11, but I thought it was a phenomenal run.”

Paul Nicholls won this with Pic D’Orhy in 2022 and attempts to repeat the dose with Solo, another likeable contender in the same colours of Johnny de la Hey.

The seven-year-old went some way to justifying his lofty reputation when downing Coral Gold Cup winner Datsalrightgino in the Pendil Novices’ Chase last term and was runner-up in the Haldon Gold Cup on his return to action.

Aintree’s Old Roan Chase form will be put to the test with Ryan Potter’s Jetoile attempting to confirm his victory over Sam Thomas’ Al Dancer, who was four and a half lengths back in third.

Jetoile has won his last three chasing starts but now faces the acid test which will inform connections whether they have a performer of real top-quality on their hands.

Potter said: “He’s won his last three and obviously the Old Roan was a massive step forward that has put him in with the class of horse we know he is.

“There’s only a small field but it’s a hot race, for sure. He’ll have to improve again from the Old Roan, but there’s no reason why he won’t.

“He’s not the best work horse in the world, so I thought it was very impressive the way he got stuck in up the home straight at Aintree, because that wouldn’t normally be his asset.

“Usually, it’s his jumping and travelling, but the fact that the race probably didn’t suit, I thought he was really good.

“We’ll know where we will stand after Sunday and it will be unbelievable if he went and won on Sunday, then you know you have a Grade One horse.

“We’re realistic, we had him tuned up for the Old Roan and that was our target, so anything after that is a bonus this season.”

John McConnell is out to put a recent quiet spell behind him by claiming one of the biggest victories of his training career so far in the “iconic” Coral Gold Cup at Newbury on Saturday.

The County Meath handler is one of coming forces on the Irish jumps scene, as advertised my multiple Graded-race victories in recent years and a first Cheltenham Festival success with Seddon last season.

Mahler Mission may well be a Festival hero himself, had he not fallen two fences from home when still bang in contention in the National Hunt Chase in March.

And following a pleasing comeback run when second in the Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle last month, the seven-year-old will line up this weekend with leading claims.

“I’m very happy with him, everything has gone well and we’re looking forward to it,” said McConnell.

“He’s travelled over and travelled fine, everything is good that way and there’s not a bother on him.

“Conditions should be OK, so we’re looking for a trouble-free run and after that we’ll see what happens.

“We were delighted with Carlisle. I think given it was two and a half miles on a right-handed track it was a very good run, and this trip should be more suitable.”

While Mahler Mission clearly has plenty going for him, there are a couple of obvious negatives.

Not only has McConnell gone over 50 days and saddled more than 40 runners since his last winner, but the Irish also have a surprisingly poor record in the former Hennessy Gold Cup, with the victory of the Willie Mullins-trained Total Recall in 2017 a first for the raiding party since Bright Highway’s success in 1980.

McConnell, though, remains positive, adding: “We’ve been a little bit quiet, but the jumps horses have been running mainly OK and it’s very competitive at this time of year, so I’m not overly worried.

“The Irish don’t have a great record in the race, I don’t know if there’s a particular reason, but hopefully we can change that.

“It’s one of the iconic races I’ve grown up watching and to have a runner in it is great, to think about winning it is just unreal.”

There is a second major contender from Ireland in the form of Gavin Cromwell’s Stumptown.

The six-year-old has disappointed in his last three races, but had previously looked a likely candidate for a race of this nature by winning at Sandown and finishing second in the Kim Muir at Cheltenham.

Cromwell said: “He’s in great nick and has a lovely racing weight, so hopefully he will have a good chance.

“The last day he ran in the Kerry National he made a mistake, I think it was four out, and wasn’t beaten far, so it wasn’t that bad of a run.

“When he was pulled up in the Irish Grand National it was quite soon after Cheltenham and it was run on very soft ground, which probably wasn’t ideal.”

The home team is headed by Complete Unknown, who bids to provide Paul Nicholls with a fourth victory in the race as a trainer and a sixth overall, having also ridden the winner twice in the 1980s aboard Broadheath and Playschool.

Nicholls told Betfair: “This race has been his target since he came back into training early in July. Second-season chasers have a great record in the Coral Gold Cup and he comes to Newbury in top form after a tidy win at Newton Abbot in October when he was only half fit. That was his first start since a wind op in the summer and he has improved tons for the outing.

“Complete Unknown schooled really well on Thursday and we are very happy with him. Most of his form is on testing ground, but that is mainly down to circumstance and he was an excellent second to Gerri Colombe on good to soft going at Aintree in April. As long as the ground at Newbury is similar he should be fine.”

Dan and Harry Skelton combined to win last year’s Coral Gold Cup with Le Milos and are out to repeat the feat with Midnight River, who returns to handicap company after finishing third in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on his seasonal debut.

“Midnight River is very well and this is what we have had our eye on for a while with him. He jumped on Wednesday morning and that told us everything is ready,” said the trainer.

“I was delighted with his run in the Charlie Hall, he couldn’t beat the first two that day, we tried to go with them turning in but he didn’t have that class if you like, but he’s improved a good bit since then and we’ve aimed at this ever since.

“He’s been in all those top handicaps last season so he does have that experience, but I’m sure it will be a very good race, it always is.”

Other contenders include Lucinda Russell’s top-weight Ahoy Senor and the Sam Thomas-trained pair of Stolen Silver and Our Power.

Russell said in her blog for William Hill: “He’s a very classy horse, but it is a heck of a weight to carry round. He’s run very well round Newbury before, where the fences suit him, and I think we’ll see a much-improved performance from his run at Wetherby.

“At an each-way price I think he’s been overlooked and we think finishing in the first four would be a satisfactory result. I’m quite bullish about him in a way because he’ll be much better for his comeback run, but it’s a big field and he has to carry top-weight.”

State Man made a pleasing return to action when retaining his title in the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.

The chestnut took the contest last year before embarking on a brilliant season that saw him beaten only by Constitution Hill in five runs at Grade One level.

He was the 1-6 favourite for Willie Mullins and Paul Townend in a field of just four and after travelling well in mid-division, he accelerated when rounding the final bend and pulled clear to defeat stablemate Echoes In Rain by five lengths.

Gold Cup winner Galopin Des Champs gets the chance to gain revenge for his surprise defeat to Fastorslow at Punchestown in the spring when the two meet in the John Durkan Memorial Chase.

The Willie Mullins-trained Galopin Des Champs looked imperious at Cheltenham, proving his stamina over three and a quarter miles when that was the only real question mark.

When winning this corresponding race last season he had Fastorslow well behind him and it was difficult to see when he could be beaten.

However, he suffered a blip in the Punchestown Gold Cup, going down by two and a quarter lengths to Martin Brassil’s new star.

Sent on his way at 4-11 in April, Galopin Des Champs is yet again long odds-on with Fastorslow the only non Mullins-trained runner in the Grade One.

“Galopin Des Champs is in nice order going to Punchestown and I hope he runs a good race,” said the champion trainer.

“Galopin has won this race before – the race is a little earlier this year and the trip might suit some of the opposition more but Galopin comes here with his chance.”

Mullins also runs Stattler, second to Galopin Des Champs in the Irish Gold Cup in February, Blue Lord, Asterion Forlonge and Appreciate It.

Assistant trainer Patrick Mullins added: “Galopin Des Champs won this race last year and while it is two weeks earlier this year that shouldn’t be any problem.

“He was obviously knocked off his perch by Fastorslow at the Punchestown Festival so we have to try to level that up. I think probably coming back in trip will suit our horse more so hopefully that can help turn the tables.”

On the yard’s other runners he added: “Asterion Forlonge was second to Klassical Dream at the Punchestown Festival and was going very well in this race two years ago when he unseated so he is always a contender.

“I ride Appreciate It, who did disappoint us a little last season even though he ran well at the top level. I think he is better than his form and he has to have a squeak.

“Stattler will probably find the trip on the short side and Blue Lord is another Grade One winner who makes this race hugely competitive.”

The man who got the better of Galopin Des Champs in April was J J Slevin on Fastorslow and he reckons his mount could be even better this season, when he turns eight.

“He’s got loads of boot and that is a big asset to him,” Slevin told Punchestown Racecourse.

“That’s what sets the good horses apart, they need to be able to travel and he seems to have that in abundance.

“He’s always coasting along in his comfort zone when other horses might be out on their heads. That was his main attribute, I felt, last year.

“He picked them up the last day comfortably enough, he needed a bit of luck when he got to the front but he did it comfortably I felt.

“I think there’s more to come, he’s been lightly-campaigned all along and he could be hitting his peak this year.”

Brassil was always looking to start Fastorslow back in this race and said: “The John Durkan Chase back at Punchestown was the obvious place for Fastorslow to start off and we are really looking forward to it.

“It will be different ground and a shorter trip than the Punchestown Gold Cup but we are going there with a nice horse and hoping for a nice run.

“We are obviously facing the might of the Mullins battalion but it is great to have a horse like him and we’d be hoping he is still improving and getting better with age.”

Gordon Elliott may not be represented in the feature race but he has strong interests elsewhere, not least with Imagine in the BetVictor Craddockstown Novice Chase.

A useful hurdler, the way he won on his chasing debut at Fairyhouse suggested he will be taking much higher order over bigger obstacles.

He is owned by Caldwell Construction and their racing manager Joey Logan said: “We’re excited about him and he had a really nice first run in a beginners chase.

“He’s stepping up now at the weekend to a Graded race and we are just hopeful he will be able to progress.”

Mullins runs Uncle Phil while John Ryan’s Lucid Dreams sets a good standard having won twice over fences already.

Gaelic Warrior strolled to an easy success on his debut over fences in the Conway Piling Beginners Chase at Punchestown.

The five-year-old was an incredibly useful hurdler, never finishing out of the top two in six starts in Britain and Ireland.

He was most recently seen winning the Grade One Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle by 10 lengths at Punchestown on his final start last season.

For trainer Willie Mullins and under jockey Paul Townend, the Rich Ricci-owned 4-11 favourite took a fence or two to perfect his jumping but victory was never in doubt and he was completely unchallenged when crossing the line 15 lengths ahead.

“It was a very good performance, way better than I expected. I thought he was a bit novicey at one or two but never looked like falling and he ran very fresh today,” Mullins said.

“We all know he stays and he might go a longer trip, but maybe after that performance I need to have a rethink about him. He’d have no problem going two and a half miles and two miles would be no problem to him either the way he ran there.

“We thought there would be a lot more pace in the race, but it seemed to evaporate and Paul was happy enough to make it.

“He was just a bit gassy today on his first run and maybe he will settle later on in the season.”

The success followed an earlier win on the card for Mullins, with Predators Gold taking the Chartered Physiotherapists Supporting Kilmacud Crokes GAA Maiden Hurdle by six lengths on his debut over obstacles.

“He was very impressive and there is a lot of improvement in him,” the Closutton trainer said of the 4-7 favourite.

“I thought it was a hell of a performance considering where he was at the third-last. He looks a really nice recruit.”

The opening contest was also won by a large margin as Gordon Elliott’s Mighty Bandit took the John Lynch Carpets 3-Y-O Maiden Hurdle by nine and a half lengths at 3-1.

“I’d say he’s a nice horse. We gave him two bits of work and he worked well and then he got light so we’ve done nothing with him since,” Elliott said.

“We didn’t really know what to expect, but Jack (Kennedy) said you’d have to be impressed with what you saw there. He was happy with him.

“He’d plenty of schooling done at home and he should strengthen up as the season goes on.

“We’ll look at Christmas now with him.”

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