Asterion Forlonge heads a three-strong Willie Mullins team into battle in the Matchbook Betting Exchange Faugheen Novice Chase at Limerick on Saturday.
The Closutton handler has saddled five of the last 10 winners of the Grade One contest, with Faugheen himself raising the roof when getting the better of Samcro 12 months ago.
Asterion Forlonge appears the stable’s first string this time around. The Grade One-winning hurdler impressed on his chasing debut at Punchestown last month and champion jockey Paul Townend takes the mount in preference to riding at Leopardstown.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “Right-handed over two and a half miles on soft ground should be right up Asterion Forlonge’s alley.
“He won a Grade One over hurdles last season and he sets the standard without doubt.
“Paul thought he was the best of ours on St Stephen’s Day.”
Asterion Forlonge is joined by a pair of stablemates in Janidil and Colreevy, both of whom are one from one over fences.
“Janidil is a horse I have a lot of time for. He has to show he’s a Grade One horse, but I think this trip on this ground will suit him and his physique is far more suited to fencing than hurdling, so I don’t think Asterion will have it all his own way,” Mullins added.
“Colreevy is a Grade One-winning bumper mare. She was very impressive on her chasing debut at Fairyhouse and I would think there’ll be very few mares that will beat her over fences. It will be interesting to see where she fits in with the geldings.”
The biggest threat to the Mullins trio appears to be the Gordon Elliott-trained Pencilfulloflead, who was last seen beating the high-class Latest Exhibition in the Florida Pearl Novice Chase.
“I’m delighted with how he has taken to fences. He wasn’t a good jumper of hurdles, but he has much more respect for his fences and I thought he jumped very nicely at Punchestown last time,” Elliott told Betfair.
“He has to come back in trip a little bit, but he’s horse with a touch of class and he’s not just an out-and-out stayer, so I’m not too worried about the trip and we know from his runs at Punchestown and Galway this season that he goes well on heavy ground.
“He’s going to need to produce another big performance here, but I think he is capable of doing so. I’m expecting him to go close.”
Joseph O’Brien’s outsider Assemble, who chased home Elliott’s superstar novice Envoi Allen in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse on his latest outing, completes the field.