Gavin Cromwell is hopeful Espoir D’Allen can rise to the challenge of his biggest test to date in the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday.

The JP McManus-owned four-year-old has won each of his four starts since touching down on Irish soil, most recently claiming a Grade Two prize at this venue over Christmas.

He steps up to Grade One level on his return to the Foxrock circuit and will be a hot favourite to maintain his unbeaten record at the expense of four rivals.

Cromwell said: ” He’s done nothing wrong so far and hopefully he’s still improving.

“We’re looking forward to the race and it’s exciting to be going there with a horse with a big chance on a big day.

“It’s time for him to step up and we’ll see what he can do.

“The ground should be fine for him.”

The Gordon Elliott-trained Farclas was just over a length behind Espoir D’Allen over the festive period and given that was his hurdling debut, it is no surprise that some fancy him to turn the tables.

Elliott said: “He’s definitely improved a lot. It was unbelievable to think he was taking on those horses for his first run over hurdles and he was only beaten just over a length.

“I know Gavin’s horse is very good, and he probably only just keeps pulling out enough, but our lad has improved and he’s in very good order.”

Elliott also saddles Mitchouka, who won for the third time over hurdles at Fairyhouse three weeks ago, but appears held on previous form with Espoir D’Allen.

Willie Mullins relies on Mr Adjudicator, who was an impressive winner on his jumping bow over the course and distance.

Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “We were delighted with Mr Adjudicator over Christmas. His jumping was very good and he settled great for an ex-Flat horse.

“We’re very excited about him. Gavin Cromwell’s horse obviously sets the standard and it will be interesting to see where our horse fits in around him.”

Elliott and Mullins are responsible for nine of the 11 runners in the Grade One Flogas Novice Chase.

Elliott is represented by Sutton Place, Dounikos, The Storyteller and Tombstone, while a five-strong Mullins team is made up of Al Boum Photo, Bon Papa, Invitation Only, Koshari and Rathvinden.

“Sutton Place won well first time over fences in Fairyhouse and the form was franked with Willie’s horse (Kemboy) winning since. You’d probably like to have a bit more experience, but we are where we are,” said Elliott.

“Dounikos is two out of two, and I think The Storyteller would have given Invitation Only a good run for it if he didn’t make a bad mistake at the second-last the last day.

“Tombstone hasn’t been easy to train and he’s had plenty of problems, but on his day he’s a good horse.”
Patrick Mullins, who takes the ride on Rathvinden, said: “It looks a very strong race and I don’t think there are too many no-hopers in there.

“Al Boum Photo looked like he was going to win the Grade Two in Limerick over Christmas until he fell at the last. He’s schooled well since and we’re expecting a big performance, but at the same time the main thing we want from him is a clear round.

“Invitation Only finally looks to be showing the potential we thought he had as a bumper horse. He was good in Punchestown the last day and we’re expecting a big run.

“Koshari was behind Invitation Only last time. His jumping needs to sharpen up a bit but he’s a talented horse.

“I ride Rathvinden, who was brought down over Christmas, but ran a good race to finish second the time before.

“We think he might be a horse for the four-miler (National Hunt Chase) in Cheltenham, so it will be good to get a feel of him.”

Henry de Bromhead’s Monalee bids to bounce back from a heavy fall at Christmas.

De Bromhead said: “He had a horrific fall here and then got a good kicking after that.

“We were worried about him for the first few days, but it was amazing how he really seems to have come back to himself.”

The line-up is completed by Noel Meade’s course-and-distance winner Snow Falcon.

A 20-strong field for the opening Irish Stallion Farms EBF Paddy Mullins Mares Handicap Hurdle includes the Mullins-trained trio of Meri Devie, Court Artist and Contingency, as well as British challengers Lady Buttons (Phil Kirby) and Canelie (Harry Fry).

Mullins’ Ladbrokes Trophy hero Total Recall is all the rage for the William Fry Handicap Hurdle, competing off a mark 31lb lower than his chase rating.

Leading hopes for the Chanelle Pharma Handicap Chase include the Fry-trained Hell’s Kitchen and Joseph O’Brien’s Vieux Morvan.

The inaugural Dublin Racing Festival comes to an end with the Coolmore N.H. Sires Irish EBF Mares I.N.H. Flat Race, in which Mullins again appears to hold a formidable hand with Colreevy and Relegate.