Un De Sceaux the one to beat in BoyleSports Champion Chase on opening day of Punchestown Festival
Un De Sceaux and Fox Norton lock horns in what promises to be a fascinating renewal of the BoyleSports Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival this afternoon.
The Willie Mullins-trained Un De Sceaux is three from three this season and looked better than ever when dominating his rivals in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham last month.
He is a hot favourite to see off seven rivals in the feature event on the first day of the Festival and provide his trainer with a much-needed boost as he bids to eat into Gordon Elliott's significant lead in the race to be crowned champion trainer.
Mullins said: "He was brilliant when winning his third consecutive Grade One chase at Cheltenham last month and he's unbeaten in three starts at Punchestown.
"I thought he won well at Cheltenham and dropping back to two miles shouldn't be any problem for him.
"We would prefer some ease in it, but I don't think better ground is a huge issue."
The Closutton handler has a second string to his bow in admirable grey Ballycasey, who steps back up in class after winning three Grade Twos so far this season.
Fox Norton was narrowly denied by Special Tiara in a pulsating climax to the Champion Chase at Cheltenham before running away with the Melling Chase at Aintree.
Colin Tizzard is happy to send his seven-year-old into battle once more after he missed a good chunk of the season with injury.
"He arrived over there on Saturday and he's settled in absolutely fine," said Tizzard.
"I'm sure the ground will be good and two of the best runs of his life have been at Cheltenham and Aintree on good ground, so I don't think that will be a problem.
"I know he's done Cheltenham and Aintree, but he did have three months off during the winter, so I think he's still a fresh horse.
"It's a Grade One and a proper race. We'll have to be right on our game to win, but the others will have to be right on their game to beat us."
God's Own caused an upset when seeing off Vautour to claim this prize 12 months ago, his second Punchestown success after having struck gold at the 2014 Festival.
He was behind Fox Norton at Cheltenham and Aintree, but trainer Tom George is expecting a better showing in Ireland.
He said: "I had a good journey over and apparently as soon as he stepped off the lorry he knew where he was.
"He was never comfortable at Aintree and he's obviously happier going right-handed.
"He goes there fresh and the advantage we've got is this is obviously his track – he seems to raise his game at Punchestown every year."
The Slad-based trainer also saddles Champion Chase third Sir Valentino, and added: "He's had a great season and ran a fantastic race at Cheltenham.
"He's a fresh horse having had a break during the winter and I'm expecting him to run a big race, too."
Rock The World won the Grand Annual at Cheltenham, but trainer-of-the-moment Jessica Harrington is well aware he faces a far sterner test in this company.
"I think we'll be running for a bit of place money," said Harrington.
"Fox Norton and Un De Sceaux are two very good horses. The only thing he (Rock The World) he has to his advantage is he's going in there a fresh horse.
"He loves good ground and won well at Cheltenham.
"There's nowhere else for him to go so he might as well step up and we'll see what happens."
Gordon Elliott's outsiders The Game Changer and Realt Mor complete the line-up.