Le Mercurey faces Titanic task
View from connections ahead of the Titanic Belfast Chase at Down Royal on Saturday.
Le Mercurey bids to maintain Paul Nicholls' domination
Le Mercurey bids to continue Paul Nicholls' remarkable recent dominance of the Titanic Belfast Chase at Down Royal on Saturday.
The Ditcheat handler saddled six consecutive winners of the Grade Two contest between 2008 and 2013 and while subsequent Gold Cup hero Don Cossack kept the prize at home two years ago, Nicholls hit back last season with Ptit Zig.
Le Mercurey made a flying start to his career over fences last term, winning at Plumpton and Ascot.
He disappointed on his next three starts after the turn of the year, but rounded off his campaign on a high with a clear-cut victory in the Future Champion Novices' Chase at Ayr.
The champion trainer's assistant Harry Derham said: "He is really well and his work has been very good. He showed an improved performance in blinkers at Ayr so we have put them back on and his training has been as good as ever.
"We've done a lot of work with him and this has been his target for a while. I don't think we have seen the best of him yet. He is still improving and is exciting.
"He is an exciting second season chaser to have in the yard. His last run was without doubt a career-best.
"I would not be surprised to see him back over three miles at some point but this is a really nice starting point."
Gigginstown House Stud are strongly represented, with the leading owners responsible for three of the seven runners.
Top-class novice Outlander makes his first appearance for Gordon Elliott after leaving Willie Mullins.
Elliott said: "I don't know much about him but he's in good form and fit and well."
Fellow Gigginstown runner Sub Lieutenant made an impressive start for Henry de Bromhead at Limerick last month, having moved from Sandra Hughes' yard
De Bromhead said: "He did nothing wrong in Limerick the last day and we've been delighted with him since. It's a good race, but he's a lovely horse and we'll see how we go."
Another former Mullins inmate, Net D'Ecosse, has his debut for Noel Meade on his first start since Boxing Day last year.
"I don't really know what to expect, to be totally honest," said the Tu Va handler.
"We haven't had him that long and we haven't done that much with him. He might not be up to this level, but we'll know a lot more about him afterwards."
Zabana beat Outlander in when claiming Grade One glory in the Growise Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown in the spring and trainer Andrew Lynch is looking forward to his stable star's return to action.
He said: "He's in good form and we're hoping he'll run his usual good race. His bloods weren't right early on and we missed a race in Punchestown because of that, but we think he's right now.
"He might need the run, but he usually runs well first time and we'll see what we can do.
"Paul Nicholls has a very good record in the race, we'll try and put a stop to it!"
Elliott's second string Shadow Catcher and big outsider Celtic Thunder complete the field.