Sir Des Champs
©Healy Racing Photos
Sir Des Champs could yet travel to Kempton to contest the William Hill King George VI Chase on St Stephen's Day with trainer Willie Mullins describing his decision as to whether to run in that race or the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown as "a 50/50 call".
A winner at both of the last two Cheltenham Festivals, Mullins' charge met with his first defeat over fences when outpointed by Flemenstar at Punchestown earlier this month.
That defeat left Mullins feeling slightly dejected, the trainer saying that his charge "never really looked like winning". But his faith in the six year old remains strong and the trainer is looking forward to getting him back on track over the Christmas period.
"I won't be making up my mind until much nearer the time and I am very open-minded at this stage," he told Sportinglife.com. "I wouldn't be worried about going to Kempton if that's what I decided was the best route. I'll take a look at what's going where and how the ground is shaping up and make a decision.
"I had never been worried about the ground for him before his last run and I certainly thought he could handle a quick surface and soft ground as well.
"He's come out of the race in good form and the run should have brought him on."
One horse whose plans are set in stone is Hurricane Fly, who will line up in the two-mile Istabraq Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29th.
"Touch wood, everything has gone to plan with him this season with his preparation," said Mullins. "He'll take the same route to Cheltenham as two years ago and run in the Istabraq before we look at the Irish Champion Hurdle."
After Zarkandar's victory at Cheltenham on Saturday, successful trainer Paul Nicholls indicated that he hoped to persuade Hurricane Fly's regular rider to defect for this year's Champion Hurdle, but Mullins retains full confidence in his charge as he bids to regain the championship crown in March.
"We'll see what Ruby thinks!" he said. "He's going very well at the moment. You'd think he might want quicker ground as a Flat-bred horse with so much speed, but he's won on everything from two miles on good to two on a half miles on soft, so it doesn't seem to bother him."
Among Hurricane Fly's potential opposition are Cinders And Ashes and Countrywide Flame, although the trainers of both of those runners are preferring Kempton's Christmas Hurdle as an option. But Nicky Henderson's Darlan, pulled out of the Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot at Monday's forfeit stage, could still take his chance.