Patrick Mullins is confident the unbeaten Lossiemouth is “fairly ready to rock” ahead of her seasonal reappearance in the Unibet Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday.
The five-year-old was the outstanding performer in the juvenile division last season, winning four of her five starts including the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Lossiemouth is already a hot favourite to double her Festival tally in the Mares’ Hurdle come March and trainer Willie Mullins has purposely delayed her comeback until this weekend to ensure there is plenty of petrol left in the tank for the spring.
“With last year’s juveniles, they had busy seasons, so Willie was keen to work towards a spring campaign with them and not over-race them,” said Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father.
“Lossiemouth has been in full training all season, so while there will be small improvement there, she has plenty of graft under her belt and is fairly ready to rock.”
Mullins acknowledges Lossiemouth’s task is far from straightforward, with another top-class mare taking her on in the form of Harry Fry’s Love Envoi.
The latter was second to the brilliant Honeysuckle in the Mares’ Hurdle last season and finished second in the rearranged Fighting Fifth at Sandown on her reappearance last month.
It promises to be an informative afternoon on the Mares’ Hurdle front, with two of Lossiemouth’s stablemates, Ashroe Diamond and Gala Marceau, locking horns at Doncaster.
Mullins added: “It’s funny that the first two in the betting at Cheltenham are two mares on a day that there’s a good mares’ race (at Doncaster) as well, so I think that’s a sign of how well the mares’ programme is working.
“Love Envoi obviously sets the standard having run Honeysuckle close last year, so it will be fascinating to see where we measure up, stepping out of juvenile company.
“It’s always a tricky year from four to five so this is a big test, but it will let us know where we stand for March.”
Love Envoi’s original target was a £100,000 conditions event on the opening day of Lingfield’s Winter Million Festival last Friday, but the abandonment of that card forced a change of direction.
“We had planned to run at Lingfield over two and a half miles, but sadly we lost that and fortunately this is only a week later and a very good prize,” said Fry.
“It’s a good job this race is there in its new spot in the calendar from our point of view, because I don’t know what I would have done otherwise.
“It’s over two miles and she won over this course and distance when winning the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle two seasons ago. She should have slow underfoot conditions and we’re hoping to see her take a big step up from her reappearance at Sandown, where she looked ring-rusty.
“She has definitely looked sharper in her work at home and in her schooling, so hopefully that will translate to what we see on the racecourse on Saturday.”
The five-strong field is headed by the Paul Nicholls-trained Rubaud, who won a Listed prize at Kempton and the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton on his first two starts of the season before predictably being outclassed by the magnificent Constitution Hill in the Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day.
Nicholls told Betfair: “Rubaud is a gorgeous horse who keeps improving and won four on the bounce before he was put in his place by Constitution Hill at Kempton over Christmas. He still kept on well to finish second that day and is in calmer waters now.
“Rubaud has to give weight to all his rivals and the drier the ground, the better he will run, though he is slightly better racing right-handed.”
Nicky Henderson’s First Street and the long-absent Guard Your Dreams from the Nigel Twiston-Davies stable complete the quintet.
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