Long Dog and Bachasson primed for Royal Bond showdown at Fairyhouse
Willie Mullins pits smart novices Long Dog and Bachasson against each other in a fascinating Bar One Racing Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday.
The County Carlow handler has saddled four of the last seven winners of the Grade One contest, including last year's hero Nichols Canyon, who subsequently ended champion hurdler Faugheen's unbeaten record at Punchestown earlier this month.
Long Dog is the pick of Ruby Walsh and arrives on the back of four comfortable victories, landing a Grade Three at Limerick last month.
Mullins' son and assistant Patrick said: "I'm very taken with Long Dog and with what he does at home. Obviously we think a lot of him. He got injured on his first run and that's why we ran him over the summer.
"Sunday will be a test. He might be best with a trip, but he has the speed, particularly on this ground, for two miles. I think he'll take a bit of beating.
"On a form line with Three Stars, who Bachasson also beat, we think Long Dog might be up to giving the weight away to Bachasson. He is a year older than him as well."
Paul Townend rides French-bred Bachasson, who runs in the Un De Sceaux colours.
The grey holds a rating of 147 after clocking up a record of four from four on Irish turf, meaning he is rated 3lb superior to Long Dog who has to give him that amount of weight under the terms of the race.
He was also successful at Grade Three level when last seen in Tipperary.
Mullins went on: "Bachasson was weak when he came to us and we didn't think he would be strong enough for winter ground.
"He has improved and improved and there possibly could be more improvement in him. His profile is one of progression. His last performance was probably his best. The ground doesn't seem to bother him too much."
Bachasson's part-owner Colm O'Connell said: "It looks like we've got Long Dog to beat.
"Our boy is only four and has already had a long campaign, we need to see about the ground and this is his biggest test to date.
"When he started out at Sligo I never had any thought in my mind he'd be running in a Royal Bond, but when he won at Galway we started to think he had a lot of potential.
"The horses he'd been beating were coming out and winning and a bit like with Un De Sceaux Willie has steadily brought him through the ranks.
"He's getting 3lb as a four-year-old, but horses his age are normally running in bumpers not in the Royal Bond.
"He's bred to act on soft, so we will hope for the best and he showed a really nice turn of foot last time."
Walsh told the Irish Examiner it was a tough choice between the pair.
He said: "T he only reason I've gone for Long Dog is because I think he'll handle testing conditions better.
" For horses that won the first race on the Monday and Tuesday of Galway, it's hard to believe that at this stage of the season you'd still be scratching your head as to which one to ride in a Grade One.
" The handicapper says I've made the wrong decision as he has Bachasson rated 3lbs higher and he's getting 3lbs off Long Dog, but the weather forecast is all that swayed me.
"They've run at roughly the same time all season, have been winning with similar ease, and improving all the time.
"I don't know how you split them. I asked some of the lads in the yard and they were split 50:50.
"It really is that difficult, and Long Dog is just my opinion - anyone who fancies Bachasson, I wouldn't like to put you off."
Gigginstown are represented by Gunnery Sergeant and Archive. The former won a point-to-point and a bumper before falling two out when leading in a Gowran Park novice hurdle. He has to come into the reckoning for Noel Meade and Bryan Cooper.
Eoin Griffin's Archive was beaten into fourth by Three Stars at Navan, while t he field is completed by the Mouse Morris-trained Baily Cloud, winner of his last two hurdle races.