The top stayer Solwhit will be a first runner at Auteuil for Co Limerick trainer Charles Byrnes when he lines up in tomorrow's French Champion Hurdle but the Grande Course De Haies D'Auteuil is very familiar territory for his colleague Willie Mullins whose number one hope Thousand Stars is chasing a three-in-a-row in the €370,000 feature.
Ruby Walsh will be on board the stalwart grey who will be backed up by his stable companions Zaidpour (Paul Townend) and On His Own (David Casey) in the race run over almost three and a quarter miles. Walsh was on board Thousand Stars last year and in 2011 while Casey rode Mullins’s two previous winners of France’s most prestigious hurdles prize, Nobody Told Me (2003) and Rule Supreme (2004.)
Thousand Stars disappointed in his prep race at the Paris track last month but Mullins is blaming ground conditions for that performance and expects better this weekend.
“I think the longer trip will be a help to him and probably the better ground will suit better as well,” he said yesterday. “I don’t think he handled the conditions the last day. As he’s getting older he’s starting to prefer better ground. He seems in good form.”
In contrast it will be all new for Solwhit whose return from injury during the winter saw the former top two-miler fill the gap left by Big Buck's in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham before easily scoring at Aintree only to be subsequently withdrawn at the start due to a bloody nose at Punchestown.
However, Byrnes believes his stable star is adaptable enough to cope with new terrain and Davy Russell is back on board having missed out on both Cheltenham and Liverpool through injury.
The French Champion Hurdle is due off at 3.10pm Irish time on an Auteuil card that also includes the French version of the Triumph Hurdle, the €270,000 Prix Alain Du Breil, in which Mullins saddles Diakali and Blood Cotil. Barry Geraghty will ride Sabrina Harty's Dalasiri. Ruby Walsh teams up with Seabass, trained by his father Ted, in the Grade Two Prix Des Drags, the feature steeplechase on the card, which is worth €240,0000.