Stars braced for French trip
Trainer Willie Mullins is optimistic Thousand Stars can successfully defend his crown in the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil on Sunday.
The eight-year-old grabbed his first Grade One prize in this extended three-mile-one-furlong contest 12 months ago and returns at the top of his game having won last month's recognised trial, the Prix La Barka.
Stable companion Zaidpour finished well to take second second spot in that Grade Two affair, and renews rivalry.
Ruby Walsh has switched from Zaidpour to Thousand Stars, with Paul Townend going in the other direction.
Katie Walsh takes the ride on Mullins' third runner, Mourad.
"All of them are in good order and hopefully Thousand Stars and Zaidpour will run the same race as they did the last day," said Mullins.
"It was Zaidpour's first run in France last time, so you'd like to think he'd have learnt from it and hopefully the longer trip can bring out a bit of improvement in him.
"I probably would be surprised if Zaidpour beat Thousand Stars, though.
"I don't think Zaidpour showed himself off the last day and hopefully he'll do it this time.
"Thousand Stars is such a professional around there and he should run very well, but it's not an easy race.
"I'm told two of the French fillies are very good, Nikita Du Berlais and Formosa Joana Has.
"They didn't run in the trial we ran in to be kept fresh for this, so maybe they'll be hard to beat.
"Mourad is an outsider. He got place money last year and I suppose that is the best we can hope for again."
The Robert Collet-trained Nikita Du Berlais beat Formosa Joana Has in April's Prix Leon Rambaud to secure her seventh consecutive victory.
Collet said: "She's in great form and is working very well. She has never run this far and we will see what happens.
"The rider, Cyrille Gombeau, is very optimistic."
The other Grade One race on the card is the Prix Alain Du Breil.
There are four Irish challengers in the juvenile contest, headed by Dermot Weld's Punchestown winner Hisaabaat.
The Mullins-trained Ut De Sivola succumbed by just half a length to Hisaabaat in the Champion Four-Year-Old Hurdle and is joined by his stablemate Loch Ard.
"Loch Ard was disappointing the last day. He's been schooling well at home but he didn't jump well on the track last time," said Mullins.
"If he got his jumping together, he might get into the place money.
"Ut De Sivola has his chance if he brings his A-game over to France.
"It looks like it's going to be wet weather and that should suit him."
Also featuring in the 11-runner field is the Tony Martin-trained Wingtips, who was third behind Hisaabaat and Ut De Sivola at Punchestown.