Penhill© Photo Healy Racing
Willie Mullins hopes to have Penhill in peak condition for his bid to retain his Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle crown next month.
The Tony Bloom-owned gelding took the staying honours on his seasonal debut last year, and that has been the plan this time.
“He’s fine. He went away yesterday and is coming along nicely,” said Mullins during a press visit to his Closutton stables in County Carlow on Wednesday.
“I hope we can get him there. Every morning you’re looking at him to make sure that he’s all right. He’s going to have a few more searching bits of work between now and Cheltenham.”
A cautious plan was hatched for Penhill early in the season.
“To me, he was never going to have a run before Cheltenham this season,” added Mullins.
“I spoke to the connections, and decided that’s what we’d do.
“You’d rather get runs into them — but what’s the point in running in Punchestown or Leopardstown and finding out you can’t get him to Cheltenham?
“Last year it wasn’t the plan — it’s just the way it worked out. This year, it seemed the obvious thing to do.”
Accompanying Penhill in the Stayers’ will be Faugheen, the Champion Hurdle hero in 2015.
He has not been seen since suffering a heart-stopping fall in the Christmas Hurdle won by Apple’s Jade at Leopardstown.
“He goes for the Stayers’ Hurdle and is in good form,” said Mullins.
“Ruby (Walsh) hadn’t stirred on him the last day. What would have happened I don’t know, but Ruby was confident he hadn’t asked him any questions at that stage.
“I was just waiting for Ruby to pull the lever, and obviously it never happened.
“When the fall happened I thought that might be it — and he was very sore for a few days afterwards.
“It would be nice to do it. I hope he just stays sound and has a trouble-free run and gets there. It’s a track he likes.”
The Unibet Champion Hurdle is again the target for last year’s runner-up Melon, who has to bounce back from a disappointing run behind Apple’s Jade in the Irish version at Leopardstown.
“He looks good, and I’m happy with him,” said Mullins.
“We’re just trying to figure out why he disappointed the last day. We have our own reasons, and we’ll try and change things in Cheltenham.
“I know connections are saying Buveur D’Air will improve hugely (on last year’s Champion Hurdle performance), but we’re hoping Melon will improve hugely as well.
“There hasn’t been any evidence of that on the track, but we’re hoping we can change one or two things with him to bring back his old form.
“If he goes there in his old form he has a good chance, I think.”
Sharjah has earned the right to go for Champion glory, thanks to victories in the Morgiana and Ryanair Hurdles this term.
“He is a nice surprise this season and has improved out of all recognition,” said Mullins.
“He probably is what we thought he was coming up to Christmas two years ago when he fell in Leopardstown — and he just lost his way after that, maybe because of a lack of confidence or whatever.
“Now he seems to be back to being a really good horse. He’s proved that this year, winning the Morgiana and in Leopardstown, so I’m very pleased.”
Benie Des Dieux won the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle last March, and that race is again on her agenda. She has not raced since following up in the Mares’ Champion Hurdle at Punchestown in April.
“She’s in good form and goes for the Mares’ Hurdle,” said Mullins.
“She might have run last week in Gowran, or this week, but I decided to give her the flu jab — which ruled her out of running.
“I decided I’d rather give her the jab than run her.”