The Grade 1 2m4f Hatton’s Grace Hurdle is set to feature some of Ireland’s star hurdlers with the all-powerful Willie Mullins team currently holding more than half of the entries.
Willie Mullins once again boasts an incredible strength in depth and the big Grade 1 contest at Fairyhouse on Sunday looks his for the taking. Mullins currently has six of the ten entries at the five-day declaration stage and even with the 2015 Champion Hurdle hero Faugheen likely to miss out the betting will still be dominated by the trainer’s runners.
Vroum Vroum Mag would be the pick and remains unbeaten in ten starts both over fences and hurdles since joining Mullins from France. She was a fine winner of The David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle at this year’s Cheltenham Festival and backed up when last seen in the Grade 1 Punchestown Champion Hurdle in April. Still only a seven-year-old she remains a tremendous prospect who seems equally effective over a variety of distances and ground.
Second of the likely Mullins runners is Nichols Canyon who was third in last season's Champion Hurdle and kicked off his present campaign like his last with victory in the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown. With the sheer strength in depth that his trainer has at the two mile distance Nichols Canyon will probably step up in distance as the season progresses but with fitness on his side will be the main danger should Vroum Vroum Mag fail to run to her best.
Of the remaining three Mullins hopes Shaneshill is the most obvious challenger and is another who can mix chasing with hurdling and thus open up future possibilities for his trainer. Seconds in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and then behind the mighty Thistlecrack in the Grade 1 Liverpool Stayers' Hurdle illustrate this. He looked very much in need of the run on his reappearance at Navan and undoubtedly will be better for the run and in his favour is that while like his stablemates he is versatile, this could very well turn out to be his best distance.
Of the opposition it's hard to see any turning over the Mullins team. Dedigout was having his first run for Gordon Elliott since leaving Tony Martin when behind Shaneshill at Navan and at the age of ten it's hard to see him reversing the form. Likewise Joseph O'Brien's Ivanovich Gorbatov was well beaten behind Nichols Canyon in the Morgiana and last season's Triumph Hurdle winner has found the going tough since stepping up from novice company this campaign.
Catch the Hatton's Grace Hurdle live on Sky Racing 1 on Sunday night.
G3 - Lowland S
Listed - Ibhayi Stakes
G3 - Northern Trotting Breeders Stakes
G1 - Pascoes The Jewellers Northern Oaks
G3 - The Founders Cup (1700)