Last Updated: 18/01/20 2:00pm
Willie Mullins is responsible for three of the five runners declared for the Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase at Thurles on Sunday.
It is eight years since the champion trainer last claimed the Grade Two prize formerly known as the Kinloch Brae with Apt Approach, but he appears to hold outstanding claims of adding to his tally.
The standard is set by Footpad, who despite being the highest-rated horse in the field, receives weight from each of his rivals. The eight-year-old was last seen finishing a distant third in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
David Casey, Mullins’ assistant, said: “Footpad seems in good form and he’s well in at the weights.
“He was very impressive on his first run of the season in Thurles, so hopefully he goes back there with a very good chance.”
With Daryl Jacob partnering Footpad for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, Mullins’ stable jockey Paul Townend is on board Real Steel, who made an impressive start to his campaign at Down Royal before placing third behind stablemate Min in the John Durkan at Punchestown.
The Closutton trio is completed by Voix Du Reve, who was a tailed-off last of four behind the yard’s Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo at Tramore on New Year’s Day.
Casey added: “Real Steel was very impressive in Down Royal and ran a very good race in the Grade One – the John Durkan.
“He’s won in Thurles before as well and he’s a couple of pounds better off with Hardline, who was just in front of him in Punchestown, so that should put him in the shake-up.
“Voix Du Reve was a bit disappointing in Tramore, but he ran well enough to be fifth in the John Durkan the time before and I think the drier ground on Sunday will help him. Hopefully he can bounce back to his best and run a good race.”
The other hopefuls are Gordon Elliott’s Hardline – runner-up in the John Durkan before falling at Leopardstown over the Christmas period – and Jessica Harrington’s Savills Chase sixth Jetz.
Harrington said: “On ratings he’s out of it, but he’s in great form and hopefully he’ll run a big race.
“At Christmas he hit the first fence very hard and Barry (Geraghty) just schooled him around. He’d fallen the time before. He ran a very good race the time before that (at Thurles behind Footpad).”
The other Grade Two on the card is the Coolmore N.H. Sires Capri Irish EBF Mares Novice Chase, which Mullins has claimed three times in the last five years with Vroum Vroum Mag (2015), Westerner Lady (2017) and Camelia De Cotte (2019).
This time around Mullins fires a twin assault, with both Elimay and Cut The Mustard stepping up in class having made winning debuts over fences last month.
Frank Berry, racing manager to Elimay’s owner JP McManus, said: “Willie is very happy with her and she did it well the last day in Cork.
“That was a Grade Three, so she has to give a bit of weight away (3lb) on Sunday, but we’re hoping for another good run.”
Gordon Elliott’s Tintangle, the Mags Mullins-trained Agusta Gold and Caravation from Philip Dempsey’s yard also feature.