Willie Mullins has two darts to fire as he aims to become the first Irish trainer to land the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris since 1919.
Troytown won the prestigious Auteuil event for Algy Anthony and in the 103 years that have followed there has been no further Irish success despite the nation being such a dominant force in National Hunt racing.
Mullins is Ireland’s leading jumps trainer and has an exhaustive CV that includes almost every notable prize worthy of mention, but France’s best and most lucrative steeplechase is a rare blank space.
Last year the master of Closutton enjoyed a share of the €900,000 prize fund when Franco De Port came home in third place and the same horse travels over to Paris in an attempt to improve on that gallant run this year.
The eight-year-old has run in France three times since that effort, placing fifth in both the Prix la Haye Jousselin and the Prix Georges Courtois and then coming home third in an established Grand Steep trial in the Prix Ingre.
The 12 months since last year’s race have revolved around Sunday, and Mullins has had the Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris pencilled in for Franco De Port since he took well to the task in 2022.
“He surprised me and we came out of Auteuil last year saying we were coming back again and we would try to gear his year around the Grand Steep,” he said.
“We thought he was an Arkle Chase horse, a professional two-mile horse and the more we went out in trip, the better he got.
“When he went out to France, I think as he’s a very keen horse and very free, the French fences settled him down hugely. I think it brought about huge improvement in him and that’s why we’re back here again.”
Mullins has taken heed from French trainer Guillaume Macaire, who follows the same route to the race and is the leading trainer with seven titles to his name, but is mindful that the travel is an added trial for horses not based in France.
“From watching how Guillaume Macaire does it, he always comes to this race so we thought we’d do what the top guys do,” he said.
“I hope it works, however for us coming from Ireland and having to come over and back again, it might be too near the Grand Steep compared to a horse living in France.
“That’s my worry, we’re doing the time honoured way of going to the Grand Steep but I would traditionally like a longer run-in. I’d like a six-week run-in for a chase of this length. But we will see what happens.
“I think he will improve from that race (Prix Ingre), he came home, he travelled well. He’s a seasoned traveller so I don’t expect any problems, we’re very happy with him going into the race.”
Mullins’ second runner is Carefully Selected, an 11-year-old who returned this season after a two-year injury absence.
His comeback has been a successful one with a win in the Thyestes Chase and a fourth place in the Bobbyjo, after which he completed the Grand National at Aintree and was 14th of the 17 finishers at 50-1.
Mullins is expecting the gelding to take well to French fences due to his unflappable temperament and does not harbour any concerns about the trip for such a proven stayer.
He said: “He’s a big, old-fashioned chaser. He had leg trouble, we gave him all the time he needed and he came back and won the Thyestes Chase, which is a traditional Aintree Grand National trial, in very heavy ground over three miles at our local racetrack in Gowran.
“He’s a traditional Irish staying chaser, he’s very calm. These different fences, they won’t bother him so we’d decided to let him take his chance.
“He hasn’t run much in the last few years and we’re always looking for three-mile plus races for him.
“This was always on the cards provided that he stayed sound and he’s been very sound all season.
“The trip suits and he’s a good jumper, at 11 years of age we might as well take our chance.”