Mullins stars in running to face Samcro in Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown

The jumps season could explode into life on Sunday at Punchestown with Faugheen, Laurina, Melon, Supasundae and Samcro among the eight forfeits for the Grade 1 Unibet Morgiana Hurdle.

Willie Mullins has won the past seven runnings of the race and, along with Faugheen – who made a splendid winning return in the race last season – Laurina and Melon, the trainer has left in Wicklow Brave and Sharjah, who was last seen finishing third to Bedrock in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal.

Gigginstown racing manager Eddie O’Leary said Samcro, runner-up in that Down Royal contest, should improve for his seasonal return but warned the Gordon Elliott-trained star would not be risked if the ground is not on the safe side on Sunday.

O’Leary said: “Hopefully that run in the north will have brought him on, but we’re not going to risk him on unsuitable ground. We’ll know later in the week what way the ground is going to be at Punchestown and we’ll discuss it then, but there’s no point talking about it now.”

Elliott, who has also left fellow Gigginstown-owned Tombstone in the race, added: "Samcro is in good shape and the plan is for him to head for the Morgiana Hurdle. I've been happy with him at home for the last week and he has come out of Down Royal in good shape and hopefully that run will bring him on fitness wise.

"He's going to have to improve on his Down Royal form but I did think that the run will bring him forward so we'll see what happens on Sunday. Jack [Kennedy] is suspended and it won't be until later in the week that we will finalise riding arrangements."

The only other trainer to have an entry in the race is Jessica Harrington, whose Supasundae landed the Punchestown Champion Hurdle over the course and distance last spring, in a race in which Samcro and Melon exited three out.

Clerk of the course Brendan Sheridan provided an update on the ground on Tuesday, and said: “We’re expecting to get five to six millimetres of rain tonight and into Wednesday morning. We’ll monitor the situation tomorrow and on Thursday and we’ll see where we’re going then. We’re good, good to yielding at the moment.”