Willie Mullins looking for a grey day
Ballycasey leads Closutton charge as Cheltenham closes in
Willie Mullins has already amassed a total of 13 Grade One wins this season and the champion trainer will bid to win the final race at the highest level prior to Cheltenham when sending Rich Ricci's smashing grey Ballycasey to Ascot tomorrow afternoon.
Earlier in the week Mullins gave himself options. Two of Ricci's greys, Ballycasey and Champagne Fever, both held engagements at Ascot and Gowran Park, the Irish assignment being a lot closer to home and a furlong and a bit shorter in race distance.
The Ascot race is a Grade One, though, and with a novice currently the one that heads the betting, it's no surprise that Mullins was keen to be represented even though it's just over three weeks until Cheltenham.
Ballycasey returns to a more familiar distance having failed to inspire over two miles behind stable companion Twinlight last time, while Champagne Fever is the subject of a "which race will he run in" debate as the jury remains out on the two-time Cheltenham Festival winner.
A trip to the King George saw him travel well before seemingly failing to get the trip, while next time out in the Kinloch Brae he was being eye-balled by Don Cossack before falling at the last but with the race still very much up for grabs.
It'll be very interesting to see what Mullins will learn from Champagne Fever in the Grade Two Red Mills Chase tomorrow afternoon, and likewise from Ballycasey, who will have to conquer the four-time time winning novice Ptit Zig, Alan King's Balder Succes and the talented mare Ma Filleule.
After four Grade Ones and one of the most memorable afternoons to be held at Leopartstown last weekend, there are five Grade Two races up for grabs this weekend with two at Gowran Park tomorrow and three at Navan on Sunday.
Also at Gowran tomorrow is the Red Mills Trial Hurdle which has a fairly elite roll of honour including Hardy Eustace, Solwhit, and last year's winner Un De Sceaux. Trainer Edward O'Grady may insure that the weekend isn't total Mullins domination, however. Due to the absence of Champion Hurdle favourite Faugheen from the entries, O'Grady's Champion Hurdle entry Kitten Rock would look to be the one to win this if he is going to make the trip to the Cotswolds next month.
At Navan on Sunday, the Ladbrokes Boyne Hurdle will be interesting with the likes of Zaidpour and Gordon Elliott's 140-rated Noble Endeavor lining up and Western Boy who failed to click over fences and reverts to hurdles for this valuable contest.
Both the Ten Up Novice Chase and the Flyingbolt Novice Chase may see potential Cheltenham contenders in Don Poli and Gilgamboa so there's still plenty of action to define Cheltenham credentials over the coming days.