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Elliott looks to Mengli Khan for first strike in Royal Bond
03 Dec 2017 | Racingpost.com 

Bar One Racing Royal Bond Novice Hurdle | Grade 1 | 4yo+ | 2m | ATR

Willie Mullins is aiming to capture his fourth Royal Bond Novice Hurdle in a row – and an eighth in total – but for Gordon Elliott, who saddles three, it would be a first success in a race that has been won by Champion Hurdle heroes Istabraq, Moscow Flyer, Hardy Eustace and Hurricane Fly.

In fact Elliott has only ever saddled one previous runner, the enigmatic Labaik, who refused to race in last year's renewal.

The grey had the last laugh in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham the following spring, but in Mengli Khan Elliott will be hoping for another live contender to announce himself for the Cotswolds curtain-raiser, for which he is already the ante-post favourite.

"Mengli Khan is definitely the pick of our three," said Elliott. "He came out of his Navan win well and we're very happy with him."

He added: "Hardline has done nothing wrong this season but this will be a big step up for him. He's in good form and so is Morgan, although he looks up against it."

Willie Mullins saddled the 1-2-4 last year and the first two home 12 months earlier, but this time relies on one representative.

Runaway Listowel winner Makitorix, a French recruit who cost €115,000 at Arqana in November 2016, takes a major step up in class, with the champion trainer voicing concerns over the four-year-old's lack of hurdling experience.

Mullins said: "He won by a long way on his hurdling debut at the Listowel festival. He's in good form and has shown he handles testing ground, but he might just lack the experience to win such a competitive-looking race."

He added: "If he runs in the first three we'll regard it as a good result."

The remainder of the seven-runner field is made up by JP McManus-owned runners, with Sean Flanagan getting the call to ride unbeaten Red Jack.

Trained by Noel Meade, who has won this race on three occasions, said of his smart Naas scorer: "He won his maiden well and we've been happy with him since."

He added: "This will be a big step up in class but he's a horse we like and we thought it worth giving him a shot at it."

Joseph O'Brien may have trained Ivanovich Gorbatov to Triumph Hurdle glory, but he will be hoping his pair of exciting novices Le Richebourg and Early Doors can provide him with a first Grade 1 win over jumps in his own name.

He said: "Le Richebourg is in good form after enjoying a good summer. It was a nice boost to his form when Twobeelucky won at Cheltenham after finishing second to him at Galway.

"We've freshened him up and we're looking forward to getting him out again, even though this is a competitive race."

Smart bumper performer Early Doors made it two from two over hurdles in the Fishery Lane Hurdle at Naas, and O'Brien said: "He seemed to step up considerably from his first run over at hurdles to win last time but he had good form in bumpers so we had hoped he would progress.

"There's no reason why he shouldn't step forward again, although he probably needs to."

 
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