No trip worry for Vautour team
Willie Mullins has no concerns about stepping up in distance with Vautour in Friday's Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown
The five-year-old was one of the most impressive winners at the Cheltenham Festival when he turned in an impeccable round of jumping as he put his rivals to the sword in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
He was originally scheduled to go for the two-mile Herald Champion Novice Hurdle on Tuesday but he and Faugheen changed places and his stablemate ran out an impressive winner, leaving Vautour to represent the stable in the two-and-a-half-mile event.
"He's grand and I don't expect the trip to be a problem for him. He's won over two miles and two furlongs," said Mullins.
"His performance at Cheltenham was absolutely huge.
"Visually he impressed me with the way he jumped. Everything he met he just took it.
"He jumped from hurdle to hurdle, never missed a beat and was still idling in the straight.
"When he passed the stands first time round, I thought 'if he can keep this gallop up, nothing is going to beat him' and he did keep the gallop up.
"I had in my mind that he could do that."
Sole British raider Lac Fontana goes for a treble of Festival victories, having won the County Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Grade One Mersey Novices' Hurdle at Aintree.
"I'm very much looking forward to running Lac Fontana. He's done very well at Cheltenham and Aintree and he's in good shape," his trainer Paul Nicholls told At the Races.
"We always thought he was a decent horse and we found earlier in the season he had was suffering from stomach ulcers. We sorted that out and it's been onwards and upwards ever since.
"He's kept on progressing and two and a half miles suited him very well the last day and we're hopeful of a very good run."
Dessie Hughes was going to put Lieutenant Colonel away for the summer after his Grade Two victory at Fairyhouse four weeks ago, but the Gigginstown House Stud-owned five-year-old has been in such fine shape since then that he takes his chance.
"We didn't think he'd run again after he won at Fairyhouse, but he's done so well since the race we feel he's entitled to take his chance again," the County Kildare trainer told Irish Horse TV.
"He won quite easily in Fairyhouse but he'll be taking on the big boys now, it will be the hottest race he's ran in. It's Grade One company but I think he might be up to it."
Apache Stronghold was only fourth in that Fairyhouse race, but his trainer Noel Meade was pleased with the performance as it was his first race since he had won the "Monksfield" Novice Hurdle at Navan in November.
"I'm happy enough with him. He got tired in Fairyhouse and that was understandable as he hadn't run for so long," said Meade.
"I hope he has improved a lot. He will have to for this race tomorrow. He should have come on a good bit for the run, but he will have to."
Noble Emperor goes straight from a debut success over hurdles at Limerick three weeks ago into a Grade One.
Connections of the Tony Martin-trained six-year-old are praying for plenty of rain ahead of the contest.
"He won a moderate maiden very well down in Limerick and he's in with the big boys tomorrow," said Frank Berry, racing manager to owner JP McManus.
"He will need all the rain that is falling for him as well. If he does run, we'd be hoping he'd run well.
"It's a big step up but if the ground is right, you could see him running well."