Star and Sir to fight it out
The fourth instalment of the most absorbing Irish steeplechasing rivalry in recent times looks set to go ahead on Sunday after Tony Martin revealed that Flemenstar will endeavour to reassert his superiority over Sir Des Champs in the John Durkan Memorial Chase.
"At this stage the intention is that he will run at Punchestown on Sunday," said the Co Meath trainer.
"I've been happy with him since Navan. We will give him some work (today) and take it from there."
When the duo first touched gloves in the two-and-a-half-mile Grade One a year ago, Flemenstar, then trained by Peter Casey, slammed Willie Mullins' eventual Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up with his then trademark poise.
The bold-jumping front-runner had the benefit of race-fitness over Sir Des Champs following a superlative reappearance triumph in the Fortria Chase, and the circumstances are almost identical this time, notwithstanding that Flemenstar's fencing lacked its usual efficiency on his recent debut for Martin at Navan.
When they next squared off in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown last Christmas, both were thwarted by Tidal Bay's last-gasp flourish under an inspired Ruby Walsh.
The three-mile journey ultimately proved incompatible with Flemenstar's flamboyant style and, while he again finished a place in front of Sir Des Champs, there was a sense that Davy Russell's mount was a work in progress as he stayed on purposefully to be denied just a short-head for third.
That impression was confirmed in decisive fashion when the Gigginstown House Stud-owned seven-year-old finally came out on top of the exchange in the Hennessy Gold Cup back at Leopardstown en route to Cheltenham.
Thereafter, their changing fortunes were further crystallised when Flemenstar was ruled out of the Prestbury Park event due to a lung infection, before being put firmly in his place by Sprinter Sacre on his Aintree return.
The €80,000 contest on Sunday has the makings of a vintage affair, with Gordon Elliott's recent Down Royal Festival feature – the JNWine.com Champion Chase – victor Roi Du Mee also among the 10 entries.
But Flemenstar and Sir Des Champs are expected to set the standard.