Kemboy and Melon give Willie Mullins a strong hand in his bid for an 11th victory in the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup.
It is 22 years since Florida Pearl bagged the first of his four victories in the Leopardstown showpiece for Mullins – who has since enjoyed further success with the likes of Rule Supreme (2005), Sir Des Champs (2013) and Bellshill (2019).
Kemboy, aboard whom Ruby Walsh memorably bowed out of the saddle after defeating stablemate Al Boum Photo in the 2019 Punchestown Gold Cup, was favourite for this Grade One contest last season but had to make do with the runner-up spot behind Gordon Elliott’s Delta Work.
The nine-year-old has also finished second on each of his two starts so far this term, most recently getting mowed down in the shadow of the post by A Plus Tard when bidding to win Leopardstown’s Savills Chase for a second time.
Mullins said: “Kemboy seemed back to himself at Christmas. David (Mullins) has retired since, so I wonder will anyone else get on well with him? We’ll see.
“He seems to like Leopardstown. The only worry is all the rain – I think real nice ground suits him more than any other horse.”
One place behind Kemboy in the Savills Chase was his stable companion Melon, who has finished second at the Cheltenham Festival on no fewer than four occasions.
His latest effort at Leopardstown was his first attempt over three miles, and Mullins hopes more patient tactics may bring about improvement on Sunday.
Reflecting on Melon’s Savills Chase performance, Mullins added: “Unfortunately for Patrick (Mullins), the horse took off with him down the back and he ended up taking on Kemboy. He maybe didn’t want to disappoint him either.
“I think he’ll settle back off the pace and use his ability over the last two furlongs.”
With the aforementioned A Plus Tard heading straight to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, his trainer Henry de Bromhead instead relies on Minella Indo in the feature event on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival.
The eight-year-old was the clear favourite for the Savills Chase following runaway victories at Wexford and Navan, but he made a bad mistake and fell at the eighth fence.
“He’s been fine since Christmas. It was his first time up against the big boys, and they were going a good gallop, and hopefully it was just lack of experience that caught him out,” said De Bromhead.
“He schooled really well the other day – Rachael (Blackmore) was very happy with him. Hopefully we’ll put his last run behind us, and he’ll learn from it.
“He’s achieved a lot in quite a short space of time. He only ran four times as a novice hurdler, and two of those were Grade Ones, and he only ran three times as a novice chaser.
“He lacks experience, and the whole idea this season was to ramp it up before Christmas. We gave him those two runs, which was great, and unfortunately it went wrong at Christmas.
“I’m not sure if we’d have been going straight to the Gold Cup in Cheltenham if he’d had a clear round. But he didn’t, so we need to get back on track, and this looked the obvious race to go and do that.”
Connections of Delta Work hope he too can get his season back on track, after unseating Sean Flanagan when defending his crown in the Savills Chase.
His regular partner Jack Kennedy missed that ride through injury that day, but is back in the saddle this weekend.
Eddie O’Leary of owners Gigginstown House Stud said: “We’re hopeful he can bounce back – I hope he’s the forgotten horse of the race.
“He’s won plenty of Grade Ones, yet there’s five runners and he’s fourth-favourite, so he looks the forgotten one.
“Jack gets a great tune out of him and rides him how the horse likes to be ridden. Hopefully it all goes well and the horse puts a smile on Jack’s face.”
Trainer Gordon Elliott, who also saddles The Storyteller, told Betfair: “Unfortunately Delta Work came down relatively early on in the Savills Chase last time, so we never got a chance to see what he could do that day.
“He has been in great form since then, though, and I’m really happy with him coming into this race.
“He won both of the big Grade One chases over this course and distance last season, and Leopardstown does seem to bring out the very best in him, so I could see him running a big race.
“I know that at his best at this track he is a match for any of the top staying chasers, so don’t be at all surprised to see him bounce back. I’ll be disappointed if he’s not closely involved at the finish.
“This race wasn’t part of the plan for The Storyteller, who is on course for the Stayers Hurdle’ at Cheltenham.
“However, it’s a small field and he’s been in great form over fences this season, so we felt it was worth letting him take his chance – it wouldn’t shock me to see him run well.”