Diakali back for Mullins as he bids for hat-trick
Leopardstown brings down the curtain on their jumps season and the opening 2m2f Foxrock Cup Hurdle (2.10) serves up one of the most intriguing dishes of the day.
Willie Mullins won the race in 2015 with Felix Yonger before following up 12 months ago with Great Field, and the champion trainer saddles Diakali, Aurko and Bonbon Au Miel this time with all three returning from long absences.
Mullins said: "Diakali hasn't run since the Galway Hurdle in 2015 as he's had his problems since then. He's a dual Grade 1 winner and is well treated by the conditions of the race.
"He'll like the ground, but in view of him being on the sidelines for so long we're just hoping for a nice run. Hopefully he will come out of it in good shape."
Mullins added: "Aurko won two hurdle races in France in 2013, but he hasn't run since winning in Pau that year, while Bonbon Au Miel hasn't run since scoring over this trip by eight lengths at Fontainebleau in September 2014. We'll find out a bit more about them now."
The 12-year-old Hidden Cyclone has been running consistently well of late, and Shark Hanlon expects another bold show from his stable star, although he admits he is a afraid of what Mullins may have up his sleeve.
Hanlon said: "You don't know what Willie has with these French horses and we've seen time and time again that his French recruits are very good.
"I'm happy with our fella. We got a bit of a job done on him last year and he's getting better. We know he'll like the ground."
Gigginstown's Tycoon Prince promised plenty as a young horse, winning three bumpers on the bounce, and trainer Gordon Elliott is hoping he can bounce back, although a trip to Cheltenham is not on the cards no matter what he does here.
Elliott said: "He's always had plenty of ability but he’s had a few training problems. He's in good form now and hopefully can put up a good show."
Another Gigginstown-owned horse unlikely to line up at Cheltenham is the Henry de Bromhead-trained Identity Thief, who bids to get his season back on track in the 2m1f Irish Stallion Farms EBF Novice Chase (3.40).
De Bromhead said: "It's unlikely he'll travel to Cheltenham even if he were to win this. We just want him to get a bit of confidence back. He seems well at home so fingers crossed."
Jessica Harrington is doubly-represented by Don't Touch It and Woodland Opera, and said: "Identity Thief sets the standard but hopefully both of ours can run well. Don’t Touch It is in good form but doesn't have a Cheltenham entry and Woodland Opera is returning from a break."
Mullins has just the one runner in the race, Great Field, and said: "He was quite impressive on his chasing debut at Gowran Park in January when he beat Mall Dini by seven and a half lengths. He's facing a much stiffer test here and is up against some smart rivals."