Top hunter chasers Billaway and Winged Leader fought out one of the most memorable finishes at last year’s Cheltenham Festival and the old rivals could clash again at Thurles on Sunday.
Winged Leader looked to have the top hunters’ contest in the bag at Cheltenham only for Billaway’s dramatic late surge under Patrick Mullins to deny him by a neck.
Prior to that, David Christie’s runner had got the better of the argument at Thurles when proving a dozen lengths too good for Billaway.
Both are in the mix for that prize again and are among 12 entries left in the Thurles Racecourse Hunters’ Chase after Tuesday’s latest confirmation stage.
Co Fermanagh-based Christie can also call on Ferns Lock and Ultimate Optimist who scored at Limerick over Christmas.
Christie’s Vaucelet currently tops most ante-post lists for Cheltenham’s Hunters’ Chase highlight.
More festival clues could come on Sunday in the Grade Two Coolmore Mares’ Novice Chase.
Allegorie De Vassy was usurped as favourite for the Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham by Impervious after the latter’s impressive victory at Punchestown last weekend.
Willie Mullins’s star could get a chance to extend her unbeaten record for the champion trainer who has also left Dinoblue in the race.
Mullins is chasing a record fifth success in the Horse & Jockey Hotel Chase, still widely referred to as the ‘Kinloch Brae’.
Successful for the last two years with Allaho, Mullins also landed the race in 2020 with Real Steel.
His most noteworthy entry this time is Chacun Pour Soi who could extend in trip to 2½ miles for the first time in his career.
It could prove a ‘sighter’ for the top-class two-mile star who has a range of future entries including the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Racing Festival and the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Also among the nine left in the Grade Two prize is last year’s runner-up Fakir D’oudairies.
Joseph O’Brien’s star chased home Allaho in 2022 and returned to action with another runner-up position behind the Gold Cup favourite Galopin Des Champs in the John Durkan at Punchestown last month.
In other news, concerns are growing that freezing conditions could impact this weekend’s high-class cross-channel action.
Ascot is due to host the Grade One Clarence House Chase featuring a clash between Energumene and Edwardstone and already frost covers are in place on the take-off and landing sides of fences as well as a shaded area in the straight.
“The forecast now indicates that this cold spell could last into the weekend, so it has changed since yesterday. So that may present some challenges,” an Ascot spokesman admitted.
Friday’s start of Lingfield’s Winter Million meeting is also in some doubt.