Willie Mullins has four chances of success in Saturday’s Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil – the French Champion Hurdle.
Mullins has won the race five times before, his most recent success coming in 2019 when Benie Des Dieux was victorious.
This time he has quartet of chances for the Grade One, which is run over three miles and one and half furlongs at Auteuil.
Asterion Forlonge heads out to Paris for the first time in his career after a successful switch back to hurdling this season.
The grey has always had a great deal of ability but also the capacity to make a serious jumping error in his races.
When reverting to hurdling this year, he won a great battle with the resurgent Monkfish in the Rathbarry & Glenview Studs Hurdle at Fairyhouse and then went on to finish second to stablemate Klassical Dream in the Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown.
“Asterion Forlonge has two good runs, second to Klassical Dream and then won on his comeback in Fairyhouse,” said Mullins.
“He, but for one or two mistakes, might have won the King George and he was travelling very well in the Gold Cup a year ago and he pulled up with a broken pelvis.
“To me, he has top class form, Gold Cup form, Grade One form, however he does make mistakes over fences.
“That’s why I’ve brought him back to a hurdling career, he won a Grade One over hurdles as a novice but this horse has a much bigger engine than you would think looking at his form book.
“The day he gets everything right, he will go and win another Grade One.”
Klassical Dream is also Auteuil-bound after finishing second in the contest last season when he was beaten by Francois Nicolle’s reopposing Hermes Baie.
“We had a hold up before Cheltenham and it was 50-50 whether we’d get to Cheltenham or not,” Mullins said.
“I thought he’d worked well enough before Cheltenham to let him run, he probably wasn’t at his best but at least we got a run into him.
“Then we came back to Punchestown, this race would always have been on his agenda provided he was good. We’re back here, he was second last year so hopefully he’ll go one better this year.”
Kilcruit is also part of the Mullins squad, another horse returning to hurdles after a spell over fences that produced mixed results over what the trainer now considers to be an inadequate trip.
“He’s a very interesting one, Kilcruit, a good jumper,” he said.
“He’s another horse that I obviously made a big mistake with early on in his career, we were running him over two miles and we’ve moved him up to two and a half.
“We said we’ll try three miles for the first time, or three miles and one (furlong). He’s going to be very interesting, we used to wear tongue ties and everything on him, but we’ve just taken everything off and he’s much happier like that.
“He loved good ground in Punchestown and he loved being left to do his own thing. I think he’s a horse that’s improving as well.
“He’s in the same ownership as (Grand Steeple-Chase de Paris contender) Carefully Selected, so we were happy that he has two runners. A good excuse to go to Paris!”
Mullins’ team is completed by Haut En Couleurs, who too will be taking on a longer trip for the first time and is well-fancied by his trainer.
He said: “Haut En Couleurs, he’s another one a bit like Kilcruit. We’ve never run him over this trip, I think he’s bred to run over this trip as he’s by Saint Des Saints.
“He’s a very free-going horse, if we can settle him or he can learn to settle, then he has a chance.
“He has a rating to be involved in this race, I think he’s rated 157 over fences. His rating is good enough, it’s his first time over this trip and he has a chance if he takes to French hurdles, which I don’t think he’ll have any problem with.
“I think he’ll probably like them better than our fences at home, he’s a horse that I’d give a chance to but he’s got to learn to settle on the day. I think the ground will suit him. He’s a horse with a big chance.”
Fifteen horses are set to run, with dual Stayers’ Hurdle hero Flooring Porter representing Gavin Cromwell, while Shark Hanlon’s Hewick and the Emmet Mullins-trained Feronily add to a sizable Irish challenge.
Sophie Leech, who has a satellite operation in France, fields Lucky One, winner of the Grande Course de Haies de Printemps at Auteuil last time out.