Fil Dor puts his unbeaten record and tall reputation on the line in the Racing TV-sponsored Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown.
The French recruit has been hugely impressive in winning each of his three starts for Gordon Elliott – most recently dominating his rivals in a Grade Two over this course and distance in December.
The grey – who carries Andrew and Gemma Brown’s Caldwell Construction colours – will be well fancied to add to his tally on day one of the Dublin Racing Festival under Davy Russell.
Joey Logan, racing manager for the owners, said: „He’s unbeaten at the moment and we’re really looking forward to him running. He did a nice bit of work the other day and he’s in very good nick.“
Last week Fil Dor’s stablemate Pied Piper threw his hat into the ring as a potential Triumph Hurdle contender with a stunning display at Cheltenham for the same owners.
The biggest threat to Fil Dor this weekend appears to be the Willie Mullins-trained Vauban, who was narrowly beaten by Pied Piper in a maiden hurdle at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve.
„It’s going to be very interesting,“ Logan added.
„In fairness to Fil Dor, his form is very solid. We knew Pied Piper would improve for his first run, which he did, so it’s going to be interesting to see how Willie’s horse runs on Saturday.
„There’s been a lot of talk about Willie’s horse, but I think Fil Dor is the one to beat.“
Fil Dor is one of two runners for Elliott along with Punchestown scorer The Tide Turns, while Vauban leads a four-pronged Mullins squad which also includes Icare Allen, Vadaly and Il Etait Temps.
Noel Meade’s Ben Siegel, another debut winner over hurdles at Punchestown, also features.
The first of four Grade Ones on the card is the Nathaniel Lacy And Partners Solicitors „50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff“ Novice Hurdle, in which Elliott and Mullins are again well represented.
Elliott’s Hollow Games is the likely favourite after finishing third behind stable companion Ginto in a Grade One at Naas last month, with Minella Crooner an interesting second string.
Elliott said: „I thought Hollow Games was a bit unlucky in Naas – he wouldn’t have won, but I thought he should have been a good second. He just didn’t get the run of the race.
„Minella Crooner is a horse that doesn’t show anything at home, but does his best work on the track.“
Mullins runs the fifth from the same Naas race in Whatdeawant, as well as Bronn and Minella Cocooner.
Henry de Bromhead’s Naas runner-up Grand Jury and the Joseph O’Brien-trained Limerick Grade Two victor Eric Bloodaxe also merit consideration in a competitive affair.
Mullins appears to hold the ace hand in the Irish Arkle, with Blue Lord (Paul Townend), Haut En Couleurs (Bryan Cooper) and Saint Sam (Rachael Blackmore) part of a six-strong field.
Assistant trainer Patrick Mullins said: „It was a tough decision for Paul but I know he thinks a lot of Blue Lord. He rode him ahead of Echoes In Rain over hurdles last year which raised a few eyebrows at the time.
„He’s a horse that has improved for jumping fences and he settles much better over them. His last run was hugely impressive.
„The other two are both only five. Haut En Couleurs is relatively unexposed because he only made his debut for us in the Triumph Hurdle when he ran huge. He was too keen afterwards at Punchestown. He was a win at the track which should help.
„Saint Sam you might not have thought of as a chaser as he’s quite small but when we schooled all the novices early in the season he was one that really caught the eye the first day, he loves it so he looks like one who will make a much better chaser than hurdler.“
Taking on the Closutton trio are O’Brien’s pair of Busselton and Embittered and Elliott’s Riviere D’etel, who chased home the currently sidelined Mullins star Ferny Hollow here in December.
It might not be a Grade One, but it could be argued that the most interesting race of the afternoon is the concluding Goffs Future Stars INH Flat Race.
Facile Vega, a son of the great racemare Quevega, heads the market following a cosy debut success for the Mullins team over the Christmas period. He is joined by stablemate Embassy Gardens.
Patrick Mullins said: „It’s worth more than the champion bumper at Cheltenham so it’s always very competitive.
„Facile Vega certainly looks the part and he was explosive on his debut.
„He’ll have to be as good as he looked on debut as Paul Nolan (Sandor Clegane), Peter Fahey (The Big Doyen) and Gordon Elliott (Itswhatunitesus) all run exciting horses but our fellow has a win at the track and that might be a big help.“
Peter Fahey has high hopes for The Big Doyen, who is two from two after following up a September win at Roscommon with a 15-length verdict at Punchestown.
Fahey said: „He has been working well. He has had a nice break between races, which has helped him, so while it looks a very competitive race, it will kind of let us know where we stand before we head over to Cheltenham.“
The Paul Nolan-trained Sandor Clegane is another stepping up in class after a wide-margin introductory success at Punchestown.
„The plan is to run as long as we’re happy with the ground. He’s our only entry at the whole Festival and we just want to make sure the ground is on the slow side,“ said Nolan.
„The horse seems in good shape and we’ll just have to see what the ground is like on the day.
„It’s obviously a strong race. I’d love it if the ground was more testing to take others out of their comfort zone as I know our fella would love it that way, but that’s the way it is.“