Elimay bids to confirm herself a leading contender for Cheltenham Festival honours by providing Willie Mullins with a fourth successive victory in the BBA Ireland Limited Opera Hat Mares Chase at Naas.
The JP McManus-owned grey has had to make do with the runner-up spot in her two previous outings this season – going down by a nose to Buildmeupbuttercup in a Listed hurdle at Punchestown, before chasing home another stablemate in Allaho in a Grade Two chase at Thurles.
On the strength of that most recent piece of form, Elimay heads ante-post lists for the inaugural Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham next month with several bookmakers, but must first come through Saturday’s Listed assignment in County Kildare.
The owner’s racing manager, Frank Berry, said: “She’s a very consistent mare. Shattered Love will be no easy mare to take on, but Elimay is in good form and hopefully she’ll give a good account of herself.
“We’ll get this weekend out of the way before we make any plans. She’s in a few races over there (Cheltenham), but let’s see how we go on Saturday first.
“Willie is happy with her, so hopefully all goes well.”
Elimay concedes 5lb to each of her four rivals, with Mullins also saddling Yukon Lil as he aims to add to the recent triumphs of Benie Des Dieux, Pravalaguna and Cut The Mustard in the two-mile feature on a card which is subject to a 7.30am inspection because of forecast snow and ice.
The biggest threat to the Closutton pair is the Gordon Elliott-trained Shattered Love, who is already a Festival heroine, having landed what is now the Marsh Novices’ Chase in the Cotswolds three years ago.
In the twilight of her racing career at the age of 10, the daughter of Yeats switches back to fences following a disappointing effort when last seen contesting a handicap hurdle at Navan in early December.
“This trip is a bit on the short side for Shattered Love, but I am keen to get a run into her before the new mares’ chase at Cheltenham, and this looked a nice option for her,” Elliott told Betfair.
“She’s in good form and has been ready to run again for the last few weeks, so I’m looking forward to getting her out again – and despite the distance not being ideal, I’d expect a good run from her.
“Elimay will be hard to beat, though.”
Elliott’s second string Tintangle and John Ryan’s outsider Waitnsee complete the field.
Elliott added: “Tintangle is a disappointing mare. She has plenty of ability and would be more than good enough to play a leading role here at her best, but you just don’t know what to expect from her.
“After a good run back over hurdles at Navan in December, she was going to be well beaten when coming down at the second-last in a mares handicap hurdle at Leopardstown last weekend.
“She did run well in this last year (finished second) and hopefully she will do so again, but she does have her own ideas about things.”