Fil Dor and Pied Piper give trainer Gordon Elliott a formidable hand in his bid for a third victory in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
It is eight years since the Cullentra handler first landed the juvenile championship with the great Tiger Roll and he doubled his tally with Farclas in 2018.
This year’s two challengers both carry Andrew and Gemma Brown’s Caldwell Construction colours – and both line up with strong claims.
Joey Logan, racing manager to the owners, said: “It’s very exciting to have the two of them running in the Triumph Hurdle, obviously.”
Pied Piper was bred by the Queen and initially trained on the Flat by John Gosden before changing hands in the autumn.
On his hurdling debut at Punchestown, he narrowly defeated the Willie Mullins-trained Vauban before registering a runaway victory in a Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham in late January.
Fil Dor has also locked horns with Vauban already, with the Mullins runner ending his three-race winning streak at last month’s Dublin Racing Festival.
The trio will again do battle in Friday’s opener and Logan has high hopes for the Caldwell pair.
“Willie is talking up his horse a lot, which you have to respect, but I think the course on Friday is going to suit Fil Dor fantastically well,” he added.
“He worked in Leopardstown last week and worked very well under Davy (Russell).
“Pied Piper has won over the course and distance and also seems in great nick, so it’s hard to split them to be honest.
“Everyone is saying Willie’s horse has improved, but I know for a fact Pied Piper has improved phenomenally since that run (when he beat Vauban).
“I think it’s going to be a very good race and I’m expecting a big run from both of our horses.”
Vauban won twice on the Flat in France before joining Mullins’ stable last year.
He was odds-on for his Irish debut when touched off by Pied Piper, but readily accounted for Fil Dor in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle.
“He did everything right the last day. He jumps well and everything has gone well since, so he’s going to be a major player,” Mullins said.
“He obviously met a good one the first day.”
The Closutton handler also saddles Icare Allen and Il Etait Temps, both of whom finished behind Vauban at Leopardstown in early February, although Icare Allen has won since.
Among the leading hopes for the home team is the Milton Harris-trained Knight Salute, who is five from five since being sent hurdling, including a Cheltenham victory in November.
Harris said: “He’s in a good place and worked well last Saturday, so we’re looking forward to it.
“The Irish are either too good for us or they’re not as good as they think they are. There doesn’t seem to be much between them, so we’ll see.
“Our horse is very adaptable and if he goes there, he goes there as a contender. Win, lose or draw he’s had a great season, but this would obviously be the icing on the cake.
“We’re under no illusions, it’s not going to be easy, but I don’t think he’ll make it easy for the others either.
But he cautioned: “We will keep our eye on the ground, though, after Wednesday’s rain. I am of the view that he is a better horse on better ground.
“We will have a chat with the owner after racing on Thursday. The ground could end up being quite sticky if it starts to dry up.”
Dan Skelton’s Doctor Parnassus, another ex-Flat performer, has won by 10 lengths at Ascot and nine at Taunton since being sent hurdling.
“He’s a half-brother to Metier and we all know what he’s done over hurdles,” said Skelton.
“This horse won at Ascot and we then ran him over two miles and three (furlongs) at Taunton deliberately, as you can’t be frightened of stamina if you’re going to run in a Triumph Hurdle.
“I was stood down at the last that day and I was amazed by how well he picked up and powered through the line.
“He doesn’t do anything flashy, but he’s a grafter and I think you need a grafter for a Triumph.”
Gary Moore runs the high-class Grade One winner Porticello and the maiden Teddy Blue, who was runner-up to Knight Salute in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton three weeks ago.