By Racinguk.com staff
The Closutton dogs were barking the five-year-old's name long before he made his Irish debut at Leopardstown in January and after justifying cramped odds in impressive style, he was joint-favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
While the Willie Mullins-trained chestnut came up short, he ran with plenty of credit to fill the runner-up spot behind Labaik before finding only stablemate Cilaos Emery too strong in the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown the following month.
Melon faces just five rivals on his return to action and is 4-7 with Ladbrokes, but the trainer's son and assistant, Patrick, feels his 152-rated and race-fit stable companion Coquin Mans, quoted at 11-2, will give him a thorough examination.
Mullins said: "Melon seems in good form and a second-season novice race like this is a nice starting point for him. It will be a fair examination for him as Coquin Mans has a high rating and is as fit as a flea.
"Melon has only had the three runs over hurdles, so he's entitled to improve, but I'm sure he'll improve for the run, too.
"He's running pretty early in the season for one of ours and we'll know a lot more about him after the race."
Of Coquin Mans, he added: "He's a very talented horse and has only beaten once, and that was by a Champion Hurdle winner in Jezki. He won't be a pushover and I think it will be a race."
Gordon Elliott's Mick Jazz, 9-2 with Ladbrokes, and the Karl Thornton-trained Wakea, available at 8-1, look the two most likely to upset the Mullins party.
Jessica Harrington's mare Forge Meadow and Willie Codd's outsider Tellthemnuttin complete the Grade Two field.
Mystic Theatre will bid to provide Mullins and Ruby Walsh with their fourth straight victory in the Lough Construction Ltd Irish EBF Mares Novice Hurdle on the same card.
Mullins has claimed the last three renewals of the Grade Three prize with Morning Run, Listen Dear and Airlie Beach respectively and Mystic Theatre will be a warm order to add her name to the roll of honour, having won six of her eight starts under Rules, including her last five.
Mystic Theatre is seeking a sixth successive win
Just as Airlie Beach did last season, Mystic Theatre warmed up for her trip to County Antrim by winning a Listed event at Gowran Park in September.
Mullins Jr said: "This has been a very lucky race for us in recent years and Mystic Theatre is a mare we think a lot of.
"She's been very impressive in her point-to-points, in her bumpers and over hurdles so far and hopefully she's improving all the time. This is hopefully the next step up the ladder and we're expecting a big run."
Mystic Theatre concedes weight to each of her five rivals in the two-mile contest.