Willie Mullins stated at the start of the season that he would target some of the premier prizes on offer in the UK with his National Hunt stars and the Co. Carlow handler will unleash one of his real heavyweights on Saturday afternoon, as the unbeaten Faugheen bids for glory in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot and the class act looks to cement his place at the top of the Champion Hurdle market.
A runaway four-and-a-half length winner of the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March, the six-year-old produced an even more impressive display when winning the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival by 12 lengths next time out and was instantly launched to the head of the 2015 Champion Hurdle ante-post market.
Mullins picked up the Coral Hurdle with Annie Power 12 months ago and in Faugheen he will have another star performer that will be sent off at prohibitive odds at Ascot. The unbeaten gelding won't be fully tuned up on his seasonal reappearance, but if he can produce anything like his best in this Grade 2 event then he should ease to victory over his inferior rivals and this could be the first step on the road to Cheltenham in the spring and a tilt at the big guns in the Champion Hurdle.
Paul Nicholls won this race in 2010 with Silviniaco Conti, who will bidding for glory in Saturday's Betfair Chase at Haydock Park, but the Ditcheat handler will saddle County Hurdle winner Lac Fontana in this 2m 3f 100y contest as the Cheltenham Festival victor aims to launch himself into the Graded sphere.
Having won the County Hurdle, he then went on to win the Mersey Novices' Hurdle at Aintree, but struggled when last of four in the Irish Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown and he will need to produce a Herculean effort here to get close to the potentially world-beating Faugheen.
Nicky Henderson's Blue Fashion has been off the track for a day shy of a year, but his last outing saw him finish within two lengths of subsequent World Hurdle hero More Of That and so he has to be respected if showing the same improvement that the staying champion has shown.
Away from the aforementioned trio there's very little to be excited about and they will all be scrapping it out for the minor places as the likes of Ballyglasheen, First Avenue and Hint Of Mint should all be outclassed in a race that could be dominated by the Irish hotpot.