Anibale Fly will warm up for a potential third tilt at the Randox Grand National with his first competitive appearance in almost a year in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse.
The 11-year-old has been a fantastic servant to trainer Tony Martin and owner JP McManus, placed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2018 and 2019, as well as finishing fourth and fifth in the last two runnings of the National behind Tiger Roll.
Anibale Fly, who has not managed to get his head in front since landing the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown in 2017, has been off the track since finishing third over hurdles at Naas last March.
McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry said: “Tony is very happy with him. He’d be hoping he’d improve for the run.
“He was to run in the Red Mills Chase in Gowran last week, but it was called off.
“He’s had one or two issues that have delayed his comeback, so hopefully we can get him out now and he’ll run a nice race.
“That (Grand National) is the plan if all goes well and we can get him there.”
Willie Mullins has saddled a record 10 previous winners of Saturday’s feature race, first striking gold with his subsequent National hero Hedgehunter in 2005.
This year the Closutton handler fires a twin assault – with last year’s winner Acapella Bourgeois joined by stablemate Burrows Saint, who provided Mullins with his first Irish Grand National success in 2019.
Philip Dempsey’s The Long Mile, who also carries the McManus silks, and Tout Est Permis from Noel Meade’s yard complete the line-up.
Of The Long Mile, Berry added: “He’s up a good bit in grade, but he needs to run to qualify for the National, so we’ll see how he runs.”
The first of three Grade Threes on the card is the Norman Colfer Winning Fair Juvenile Hurdle, for which the Gordon Elliott-trained Teahupoo will be a hot favourite.
The French recruit made an impressive Irish debut over the course and distance in January, and holds several engagements at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.
“I was very pleased with his first start for us when he won a conditions event at this track last month,” Elliott told Betfair.
“He possibly had fortune on his side, because a horse of Willie’s (Youmdor) came down at the last when holding a slender lead.
“In fairness though, our horse had managed to get Youmdor off the bridle – and the way he went to the line suggested that it would have been close enough if both horses had cleared the last without incident.
“He looks like he has progressed from that last run, which would suggest that he has a future at graded level, and I’d like to think he will be closely involved.”
Teahupoo’s five rivals include Tax For Max, who is an interesting addition to the Mullins yard, having competed at Group One level on the Flat in Germany.
Fairyhouse also stages the Red Mills Trial Hurdle, after it was switched from the recently abandoned fixture at Gowran Park.
Elliott is hoping Petit Mouchoir can make the most of having his sights lowered, after finishing a well-beaten fifth behind Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.
He said: “Petit Mouchoir should run well. On ratings and at the weights, he is reasonably treated by the race conditions, and this race does represent quite a drop in class following two runs in Grade Ones at Leopardstown.
“The first of those saw him finish an excellent third to Sharjah – and while he was well beaten behind Honeysuckle next time, I wasn’t that disappointed because he probably paid the price for trying to match strides with an exceptional winner.
“Had we ridden him differently he could have run a good deal better, I suspect. I’m hoping he will run his usual solid race.”
Henry de Bromhead’s Jason The Militant appears for the first time since finishing a close third in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November, while Joseph O’Brien has declared Darasso to run in blinkers just six days after finishing third in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan.