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Petit Mouchoir and Footpad, a respective third and fourth in the Champion Hurdle in March, clash in a fascinating Frank Ward Solicitors Irish Arkle at Leopardstown on Saturday.

Henry de Bromhead’s Petit Mouchoir also won the Irish Champion Hurdle last season, but Footpad has made more of a mark over fences thus far.

In two runs over fences to date he has not put a foot wrong and barely touched a twig, looking a natural in the process.

Willie Mullins also runs Demi Sang, a French import who won on his first outing for the yard at Naas last month.

“Footpad is in good form and Demi Sang is in good order as well,” said the champion trainer.

“I’d rather try and keep them apart until March, but where else are they going to go?

“This is where they have to go. It’s our big novice race, so we’ll take our chance.”

His son and assistant Patrick added: “Petit Mouchoir had the upper hand on Footpad over hurdles, but Footpad definitely looks like a better chaser than hurdler.

“His jumping has been immaculate so far and we’re hoping the change of code will help us get a different result. He seems in very good form.

“Demi Sang did well to win in Naas given his jumping wasn’t that slick. That was probably no surprise given he’s run over fences in France and if he can sharpen his jumping up then he’s entitled to run well.”

After a scintillating chasing debut at Punchestown in October, Petit Mouchoir suffered a setback which has kept him off the track for over 100 days.

De Bromhead told Racing UK: “He won the Irish Champion Hurdle and the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown.

“He was third in the Champion Hurdle (at Cheltenham) and obviously his hurdle form is rock-solid.

“He put up a nice performance in his beginners’ chase and unfortunately had a setback after that, but he seems good now and he’s working well.

“He’s finished in front of Footpad a few time over hurdles. We need to be sure we’re back all guns blazing.”

Completing the small but select field of five are Ted Walsh’s Any Second Now and Gordon Elliott’s Tycoon Prince.