Willie Mullins sends Gauloise to Sandown on Saturday for her seasonal debut in the Unibet 3 Boosts A Day Mares’ Hurdle.
The just-turned six-year-old has won three of her six starts over hurdles and finished a half-length runner-up in the Grade One Mares Novice Hurdle Championship Final over two and a half miles at Fairyhouse in April.
The Kenny Alexander-owned daughter of Samum has not been seen since landing a two-mile Listed mares’ novice hurdle at Punchestown in April after suffering a setback.
Alexander’s racing manager, Peter Molony said: “She is on track for Sandown. She was due to run before Christmas, but had a little setback. Willie seems happy with her now.”
Gauloise will be well fancied to make a winning return in a Listed contest Mullins claimed with Laurina three years ago.
She is joined on the trip across the Irish Sea by Shark Hanlon’s star mare Skyace, while the home team is headed by the Lucy Wadham-trained Martello Sky.
The daughter of Martaline secured her seventh career victory in a handicap at Cheltenham on her latest appearance and connections are keen to secure further black type to add to her Listed win of last year.
“She won at Market Rasen first time out (this season), then I thought she ran well in pretty atrocious conditions at Aintree,” said Wadham.
“We were optimistic last time back against the mares and this two-and-a-half-mile trip really plays to her strengths. She travels so strongly through her races, but she always had a bit left at the end.
“We are on the hurdles track and not the Flat track (on Saturday) and we are early on the card, so the ground should be OK.
“I don’t see why the track would be a problem as she has won going right-handed around Market Rasen and the stiff finish is sure to play to her strengths.”
Last year’s winner Whitehotchillifili is back to defend her crown for Harry Fry, but needs to raise her game following an underwhelming comeback effort at Sandown a month ago.
Fry said: “We know she’ll handle conditions, but she’s got to carry a penalty for winning last year’s race and strictly on ratings she’s got it all to do.
“She obviously ran very well when defeating Stormy Ireland in the race last year and fingers crossed she can give another account of herself.”
The field is completed by Jamie Snowden’s Anythingforlove, who won a Grade Two novice hurdle over the course and distance last season and bolted up in a handicap at Ffos Las last time.
Snowden said: “She needs pretty deep ground so when we went chasing earlier this season the ground wasn’t soft enough for her. We went down to Wales for heavy ground the other day and she got back to winning ways, which was lovely.
“She’s definitely got it all to do in a race of this calibre as she’s carrying a penalty, which will make life tougher. But she goes on the ground and acts around the track so hopefully she can run a nice race that would be wonderful.
“We know she’s going to stay all day up the hill and that is always crucial around there.”