Triumph Hurdle hero Quilixios puts his unbeaten record on the line on the final afternoon of the Punchestown Festival.
Making his first start for Henry de Bromhead after being moved from Gordon Elliott’s stable, the Cheveley Park Stud-owned gelding ran out an authoritative winner of the juvenile championship in the Cotswolds.
The four-year-old renews rivalry on Saturday with the third and fourth from Cheltenham, in the Willie Mullins-trained Haut En Couleurs and Denise Foster’s Zanahiyr.
De Bromhead has high hopes his charge can come out on top once more in the Grade One Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle.
“He’s been really good and looks amazing. Obviously he only came to us just prior to Cheltenham, but he seems in really good form,” said the Waterford-based trainer.
“He seems to have a very high cruising speed – he jumps well and he’s a very exciting horse.
“You’d hope he’d jump a fence, looking at his technique and everything. He’s a lovely, big, scopey horse – he’s a big fella and is exciting for the future.”
The first two from the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham are also in contention.
Noel Meade’s Jeff Kidder, who has since won a Grade Two at Fairyhouse, led Mullins’ Saint Sam home at Prestbury Park – but both need to progress further to match the form of Quilixios.
French raider Mica Malpic (David Cottin), Druid’s Altar (Joseph O’Brien), Palace Rock (Francis Casey) and Zoffanien (Denis Hogan) complete the line-up.
Willie Mullins is responsible for four of the nine runners declared for the Coolmore Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle – a Grade One contest he has won seven times in the last 10 runnings.
This year’s quartet is headed by Concertista, who is bidding to bounce back from a narrow defeat to Black Tears when odds-on for the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The Closutton handler also saddles Burning Victory – not seen since winning last year’s Triumph Hurdle – as well as My Sister Sarah and Stormy Ireland.
There would be no more popular winner than former Mullins inmate Skyace, for trainer Shark Hanlon.
The £600 purchase has won five times this season – most recently claiming Grade One honours in novice company at Fairyhouse.
Hanlon acknowledges the fact his stable star faces a much tougher assignment this weekend, but he is relishing the challenge.
He said: “It’s a step up in class for her, and we’re taking her out of novice company, but this is probably going to be her last run for a while – and she’s entitled to be there.
“She’s in great order and good form. The prize-money is so big as far down as fourth place, so we’ll give it our best shot.
“She’s entitled to take them on.”
Another ex-Mullins runner Laurina makes her first start for new connections, with Global Equity (Joseph O’Brien), Minella Melody (De Bromhead) and Politesse (Lorna Fowler) the other hopefuls.