Big Kempton clash unlikely as Mullins opts to keep Faugheen for Leopardstown
Faugheen is set to stay in Ireland for Christmas after trainer Willie Mullins indicated on Wednesday that the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29, rather than a clash with Buveur D’Air at Kempton three days earlier, is the likely aim.
While that might disappoint Kempton officials and the thousands of racegoers descending there on Boxing Day, connections of the two star hurdlers in Britain and Ireland seem happy to save the clash for Cheltenham in March.
Faugheen and Buveur D'Air are the past two winners of the Unibet Champion Hurdle, and the 2015 victor just shades favouritism at a best-priced 7-4. Buveur D'Air can be backed at 3-1.
Mullins said: “The Ryanair Hurdle is the likely Christmas plan for Faugheen once we’re happy with him. He’s been in good form since his Morgiana Hurdle win.”
Faugheen had been off the track since January 2016 before returning to blitz his rivals with a 15-length demolition job at Punchestown last month.
Another big-name hurdler set to grace Leopardstown's Christmas festival is last season's OLBG Mares' Hurdle heroine Apple's Jade, who brought her haul of Grade 1 wins to six when trouncing Nichols Canyon by nine lengths in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse this month.
After the five-year-old's Fairyhouse victory trainer Gordon Elliott suggested that Apple's Jade could miss the Christmas action and have a prep for the defence of her Cheltenham Festival crown at Punchestown in February.
However, Elliott revealed on Wednesday: "There's been a change of plan for Apple's Jade and she'll run in the Grade 1 Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 28."
That would be Apple's Jade first attempt at three miles and, while the OLBG Mares' Hurdle – for which she is 6-4 favourite – remains the favoured Cheltenham Festival target, she is likely to be entered for the Stayers' Hurdle, for which she is quoted at 10-1.
Death Duty, Elliott's unbeaten novice chaser who made it three from three over fences when landing the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse this month, will be in action over Christmas although Limerick rather than Leopardstown is being favoured by connections of the JLT Novices' Chase favourite.
Elliott said: "Death Duty is in the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase over three miles at Leopardstown on December 29 but we're thinking of running him instead in the Grade 2 Greenmount Park Novice Chase at Limerick [on December 26]."
Samcro, 2-1 favourite for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham following wide-margin victories on his two starts over hurdles, will work on Thursday morning before a decision is made regarding his participation in the Grade 2 Navan Novice Hurdle on Sunday.
Elliott said: "Samcro is in good form. He'll do a bit in the morning and then we'll decide about Navan.
"We're aiming him at the Grade 1 Lawlor's Hotel Novice Hurdle at Naas on January 7, regardless of whether he runs on Sunday."
Mullins, meanwhile, confirmed that Next Destination, a 13-length winner on his hurdling debut at Naas last month, will run in that Grade 2 contest at Navan.