Mullins and Nicholls set for big showdown at Sandown
Un De Sceaux will have a second stab at Sprinter Sacre at Sandown tomorrow as the absorbing tit-for-tat duel between Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls reaches its crescendo.
Jump racing's two most decorated handlers of modern times can each boast nine wins in their respective domestic championships.
After trading blows yesterday, Mullins eventually lost ground in the quest to plunder a landmark triumph in the British title race. He ended the day £48,667 behind Nicholls despite a first and second at Perth for Townshend and Tennis Cap that at one stage had the deficit down to £39,340.
Again, Nicholls has a numerically stronger delegation today, with four Chepstow runners to Mullins's sole Perth candidate, albeit the Paul Townend-ridden Rolly Baby has a chance to win the largest pot in a handicap chase worth £9,097 to the winner.
In truth, this week has been all about damage limitation for Mullins. If he is to thwart Nicholls' bid for a 10th title, tomorrow's £485,000 Bet365 Gold Cup card at Sandown was always going to be crucial.
The Closutton genius had raised the possibility of saddling Douvan or Vautour in the Grade One Celebration Chase, but in the end he has opted to give Un De Sceaux a chance of plundering the £71,187 prize.
If Townend's free-running mount is to do so, he will have to gain vengeance on Nicky Henderson's Sprinter Sacre, which last month reclaimed the Champion Chase in spectacular fashion, three years after first winning it.
Un De Sceaux simply couldn't cope with him on the prevailing good ground on that occasion. However, there is a feeling inside Closutton that being denied the lead by Special Tiara might have spoiled his chance, especially on the prevailing good ground.
Nicholls will saddle last year's champion chaser Dodging Bullets, and, reaffirming just how desperate he is to retain his crown, he will also saddle outsiders Solar Impulse and Ulck Du Lin. Sire De Grugy, the 2014 two-mile champion and twice a winner of the Celebration, completes the field.