Willie Mullins believes less testing conditions will bring out the best in Thousand Stars as he aims to clinch a French Champion Hurdle hat-trick at Auteuil on Sunday.
So often the bridesmaid behind brilliant stable companion Hurricane Fly in his homeland, the admirable grey has enjoyed some fantastic days across the Channel, winning this Grade One event, officially known as the Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil, for the last two years.
He was beaten into fourth by the Paul Nicholls-trained Celestial Halo when chasing back-to-back victories in the Prix La Barka at the Paris track last month, but while the Ditcheat runner reopposes, Mullins hopes the less demanding conditions will help his charge bridge the gap.
"I think the longer trip will be a help to him and probably the better ground will suit him better as well. I just don't think he handled the conditions the last day and as he's getting older, I think he's starting to prefer better ground. I'm happy with him going into the race, he seems in good form, so we'll see what happens," he said.
Thousand Stars leads a three-pronged Mullins attack on the three-mile-one-furlong contest, with Zaidpour and On His Own also in contention. Zaidpour was a good fifth behind Thousand Stars 12 months ago, but was well beaten in the Prix La Barka.
Mullins said: "Like Thousand Stars, I don't think he really handled the conditions the last day. I believe it's forecast to be a wet day on Sunday, but we've had a dry week leading up to it and the ground won't be as bad as it was for the Prix La Barka.
"He seems well, he has run well at Auteuil before and if things go right , hopefully he can pick up some of the good prize-money on offer."
On His Own is a fascinating contender having fallen when a leading fancy for the last two renewals of the Grand National at Aintree. He lines up on the back of a fortunate win over hurdles at Sligo.
The champion trainer said: "He's had a light campaign and I just didn't want to be throwing him out in the field just yet. He's only run three times over hurdles in his life, and won twice, so we thought we'd let him travel and see how he matches up against these horses. He probably won't be up to this level, but we'll see.
"He surprised me when he won in Navan earlier in the year and I'm hoping he might surprise me again."