Vauban is the star attraction at Naas on Monday, as the top-class hurdler bids to follow up Royal Ascot success in the Ballyroan Stakes and seal his ticket to the Melbourne Cup.
The 2022 Triumph Hurdle hero spent the last season plying his trade in top-class two-mile races over obstacles, chasing home stablemate State Man in three Grade One events as well as finishing fourth behind the mighty Constitution Hill in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The Rich Ricci-owned five-year-old successfully reverted to the Flat at the Royal meeting in June, making much of the running and powering seven and a half lengths clear in the hands of Ryan Moore.
Vauban steps up to Group Three level for this latest assignment, in what is an important next step for the ante-post favourite on the road to the ‘race that stops a nation’ in Flemington on November 7.
Mullins said: “He’s in good form after his race at Ascot. Naas is only up the road rather than having to travel him to England and hopefully he’ll run well enough to qualify for the Melbourne Cup (needs to be placed in a Group race).
“It’s a shorter trip and probably different ground to Ascot. It also gives us time if things don’t go right to run again.
“All being well, Melbourne is the plan.”
Vauban’s rivals include Noel Meade’s Group Three and Group Two winner Lafayette and the Joseph O’Brien-trained Valiant King, who was beaten just a head by the King and Queen’s subsequent Gordon Stakes winner Desert Hero in the King George V Stakes at Royal Ascot.
The most valuable race on the card is the Irish EBF Ballyhane Stakes, with a total prize fund of €300,000 unsurprisingly attracting a strong challenge from Britain.
Among the raiding party is Innvincible Friend, who has only won one of his six starts to date but has finished second on three occasions. Trainer Tom Dascombe is hoping the application of cheek pieces will enable him raise his game.
“Innvincible Friend is a very experienced and very genuine horse and I’m sure he will run to his best,” said the Lambourn handler.
“We’ve just put cheekpieces on him for Monday as he can be a little bit lazy and I suppose that is why we’ve been able to run him so often.
“The ground doesn’t bother him at all – you could run him down the M4 motorway or in a bog and it would be all the same to him.
“It is a wonderful race and the owners are keen to go. Owning racehorses is about having fun and if you can pay for it along the way it’s a bonus. I don’t think this horse will be out of the prize-money.”