Sky Bet's "Road to Cheltenham" goes to Punchestown, Ireland, this Sunday for the €45,000 G2 Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle (2.50pm, six runners).
The two-mile contest was established in 2003, when it was won by subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Kicking King. In recent years, Vautour (2014) and Douvan (2015) landed the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle before going on to success in the G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Vautour and Douvan were both saddled by Willie Mullins and Ireland's champion jump trainer is doubly represented this year with Harrie (Ruby Walsh, 2/1 favourite with Sky Bet), successful on his hurdling debut at Tramore last month, and the mare Buildmeupbuttercup (Paul Townend, 7/2), a dual bumper winner when trained by Mick Channon and successful on her debut for Mullins in a 29-runner maiden hurdle at Navan on December 8.
Gordon Elliott is also set to saddle two runners, who are both owned by Gigginstown House Stud. Swordsman (Jack Kennedy, 7/2) makes a quick reappearance, having sauntered to an impressive 12-length victory at Fairyhouse on New Year's Day. Felix Desjy (Davy Russell, 6/1) was a useful bumper performer last season, finishing sixth and fifth in G1 contests at Cheltenham and Punchestown respectively. The six-year-old made a winning debut over hurdles at Galway in October, but has been beaten in his three subsequent starts.
Jessica Harrington, trainer of the great Moscow Flyer, is represented by Jetez (Robbie Power, 11/2). The five-year-old is the most experienced member of the field, having begun his hurdling career last season. A winner of a maiden hurdle at Limerick in May, Jetez was last seen out when taking a competitive two-mile handicap hurdle by three lengths at Leopardstown on December 27.
Harrington said today: "Jetez has come out of Leopardstown in good form. It was great for him to score that day and we were delighted with the performance.
"He is improving with every start and the Moscow Flyer has been the plan since his last run.
"Hopefully, he can develop into a top Graded performer and seems to be going in the right direction.
"We are looking forward to the race."
Completing the line-up is Jan Maat (Henry de Bromhead/Rachael Blackmore, 25/1). Also owned by Gigginstown House Stud, the six-year-old scored at Fairyhouse in October and was last seen when sixth behind Jetez at Leopardstown.
Michael Shinners, Racing PR Manager at Sky Bet, said: "The Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle has often provided significant clues for the G1 Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle in March.
"This year's renewal looks fascinating, with Harrie and Buildmeupbuttercup both having won last time for the all-conquering Willie Mullins team and Swordsman an eye-catching winner on New Year's Day for Gordon Elliott.
"Jetez took on and defeated seasoned opposition over Christmas and adds an interesting dimension to the race."
Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle, Sky Bet odds:
6/1 Felix Desjy
25/1 Jan Maat
Each way terms: 1/4 for first 2 places