O'Connell wary of Dunguib task
Tough task on comeback for smart hurdler
Last Updated: 17/01/11 2:25pm
Dunguib (right): Returns at Leopardstown
Jockey Brian O'Connell admits Dunguib will have his work cut out as he returns to action in Sunday's BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.
The eight-year-old was a red-hot favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at last year's Cheltenham Festival after winning each of his four starts, including two Grade One races.
However, he came unstuck at Prestbury Park when third behind Menorah while a step up to full company at the Punchestown Festival saw him finish a well-beaten sixth behind Hurricane Fly.
That rival is also set to line up in Sunday's race, along with six-time Grade One winner Solwhit, and O'Connell is under no illusions about the task in hand.
"I'd like to think he has improved (from last year)," he said.
"It looks a very strong race on paper. You've got Hurricane Fly and Solwhit, who seem to be leading the way this year, but we're looking forward to a good run out of our horse.
"Obviously he will improve for this first run this year.
"I'm sure it will be testing ground but Leopardstown doesn't seem to get it as heavy as a lot of other tracks here in Ireland so I'm sure we'll have nice ground."
Dunguib was very much one of last season's talking horses before his Festival disappointment.
Given that Menorah is unbeaten in two starts this term and fourth-placed Oscar Whisky is more than holding his own, O'Connell thinks there is much encouragement to be taken from that Supreme showing.
He added: "There were plenty of positives to take out of the race.
"The form has been rock solid this year and it looks to have been an exceptional novice race last year.
"We'd be hoping for a good run from our horse (on Sunday) but to expect to beat Hurricane Fly in our first run back would be a lot to ask.
"We'll just be hoping for a good run from our horse and for him to improve from that," he told At The Races.
Colm Murphy has Voler La Vedette primed for the race after deciding to give Leopardstown's Festival Hurdle a miss.
The County Wexford trainer has given the mare extra time to get over her exertions at Fairyhouse in mid-December when she was third to Hurricane Fly and Solwhit.
Those two went on to occupy the same positions at Leopardstown two weeks later and all three could meet again in the Irish Champion.
"Touch wood, she'll go there. She's done extremely well since her last run," said Murphy.
"She's put a bit of weight back on, she's very well and very fresh in herself."