Mullins hopes Melon can take Cheltenham glory
Willie Mullins is banking on Melon's ability making up for his inexperience in the the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The Closutton dogs were barking this five-year-old's name long before he made his Irish debut at Leopardstown in January and he could hardly have been more impressive.
While the form does not add up to much and no horse has won the Supreme off the back of just one run over hurdles since Flown struck gold in 1992, Mullins' enthusiasm for Melon is infectious.
"Melon is a horse with plenty of ability who jumps well. He's a fine, strong, tall horse who has the ability but doesn't have the experience," said the County Carlow maestro.
"The form in the two-mile division is not as strong as other years. We'll find out on the day, I suppose.
"Fiveforthree won the Neptune after one run and Melon has plenty of jumping experience at home. He seems a natural jumper.
"When I bought him I thought if he's good enough he's a Champion Hurdle horse, but looking at the size and scope of him now - he's really grown and matured - he could easily jump fences."
It is 22 years since Ireland's perennial champion trainer broke his Festival duck in the traditional curtain-raiser with 25-1 shot Tourist Attraction.He added to his tally with another outsider in Ebaziyan in 2007 before landing three consecutive renewals with the well-fancied trio of Champagne Fever (2013), Vautour (2014) and Douvan (2015).
Mullins' dominance in the race may have come to an end 12 months ago, but it took a horse as special as Altior to see off hot favourite Min and Melon is ably supported by three talented stable companions in this year's renewal.
Bunk Off Early travelled through last month's Deloitte Novice Hurdle with panache before being mowed down late on by stablemate Bacardys, while Mullins also saddles Crack Mome and Cilaos Emery.
His son and assistant, Patrick Mullins, said of Bunk Off Early: "He was too keen in the Deloitte and just didn't quite see it out. You'd like to think that dropping back two furlongs, going a faster pace and going on better ground should all suit him.
"He jumps fantastic and I think he'll give Paul Townend a great spin."
Ruby Walsh will be on Melon, while David Mullins takes the mount on Cilaos Emery and Danny Mullins partners Crack Mome.