Death Duty sent into battle
Views from connections ahead of the Grade One Lawlor's Hotel Novice Hurdle at Naas on Sunday.
Death Duty: Runs at Naas on Sunday
Death Duty bids to enhance his Cheltenham Festival claims in the Lawlor's Hotel Novice Hurdle at Naas on Sunday.
Successful in the point-to-point sphere and the winner of two bumpers, the Gigginstown House Stud-owned gelding has rattled off three successive victories over hurdles this season.
A routine debut victory at Roscommon has been backed up by two impressive displays in Graded company at Navan, most recently accounting for the well-regarded Invitation Only.
Gordon Elliott's charge is ante-post favourite for both the Neptune and the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at the Festival in March, but must first overcome five rivals at the highest level.
Gigginstown Stud manager Eddie O'Leary said: "Death Duty has been good, but he's taking on a couple of very good horses of Willie's (Mullins) and the other two of ours aren't bad, either."
The other two Gigginstown representatives are also in prolific form.
Death Duty's stable companion Blood Crazed Tiger has won his last four starts in total and is unbeaten in three starts over hurdles.
Noel Meade's Bel Ami Sivola was beaten on his hurdling bow at Down Royal last season, but was a runaway winner of a Punchestown bumper on his October return and has since won twice over timber.
"All three of them have a chance and hopefully one of them will get lucky," said O'Leary.
"It looks a good race and we'll see what happens."
Willie Mullins has saddled six previous winners of this Grade One contest, including the last three.
This year the Closutton handler fires a twin assault with impressive Punchestown scorer Turcagua joined by talented mare Augusta Kate, who is owned the likes of Alan Shearer, Ant & Dec and Lee Westwood.
Stable jockey Ruby Walsh has sided with Augusta Kate, who won three of her five starts in bumpers and scored as she liked on her first start over hurdles at Thurles in November.
Mullins' son and assistant, Patrick, said: "It's a big step up in class for Augusta Kate, but she's a very well-bred mare and she showed when she ran in the Champion Bumper last season, only beaten five lengths, she's capable of competing at the top level against geldings.
"She hurdled well on her debut in Thurles. That was over three miles, but her dam (Feathard Lady) was a Grade One winner over two, so hopefully coming back to two-and-a-half won't be an issue."
Of Turcagua, Mullins added: "He is a horse with a lot of ability and maybe his form doesn't reflect his home-work.
"He's had a few little issues, but we've had a clean run with him this season and he was very good in Punchestown.
"The ground, the trip and the track will all suit him and hopefully he can show he's up to this class."
The field is completed by Enda Bolger's Stand Up And Fight, who was beaten just over eight lengths into third by Death Duty at Navan in November.