NEARLY two years after chasing home Hurricane Fly in the 2011 Irish Champion Hurdle, Solwhit makes his eagerly awaited return from injury at Punchestown today.
A winner of six Grade Ones, Charles Byrnes' charge was the clear second best hurdler in the country prior to suffering serious tendon damage, a fact that gained further merit when Hurricane Fly went on to claim Cheltenham glory that March.
The prospect of him going chasing had been an immensely exciting one but an interrupted recovery scuppered that, and he reappears now on the eve of his ninth birthday.
While Solwhit has always gone well fresh, the two-and-a-half-mile conditions race that he tackles here is decent, with Bog Warrior and Staying Article two form rivals. Beaten at odds-on by the smart Midnight Game at Fairyhouse, Staying Article steps up to this trip for a first time.
There is a good chance that the distance will suit and he is progressive, but he may not quite have Bog Warrior's class. In short, Tony Martin's 2011 Drinmore Chase hero lost his confidence over the larger obstacles.
On switching back to hurdles at Fairyhouse on the same day that Staying Article got beaten, he exploited a lenient hurdle mark of 122 to sluice up in a fair handicap.
Since then, Bog Warrior's rating has been revised to 143, which leaves him 1lb wrong with Staying Article today. However, that mark is still 10lb less than what the Gigginstown Stud-owned runner merited at his peak over fences and on testing conditions that suit, he has the scope to follow up here for Davy Russell.
Another reverting to hurdles that appeals at the Kildare track, which must pass an 8.0 inspection if racing is to go ahead, is Canaly. Dessie Hughes' Bob Back gelding got off the mark over fences at the fifth attempt at Fairyhouse two weeks ago, and the seven-year-old takes his chance in what is a competitive two-and-a-half-mile handicap now.
The resurgent Shrapnel heads the weights under Russell, with Mouse Morris' improving Call Rog one of many of the 15-strong field with chances. Canaly will need to be at his best to prevail, but he has dropped 9lb in the ratings from a high of 135, so should figure prominently under Bryan Cooper.
In the beginners' chase, Henry de Bromhead's You Must Know Me, a gallant second to Boston Bob at Navan, is preferred to Vesper Bell and Ipsos Du Berlais, while the day's nap vote goes to Ted Veale in the novice hurdle at Tramore which also must survive a morning inspection.
A neck victor over Mumbo Jumbo at Listowel, Tony Martin's representative was second to Sizing Rio at Navan last time, form that stands out in today's modest company.
Hughes also has the potential to secure an across-the-card brace. He teams up with Mark Enright for Chasing Shadows in the maiden hurdle and Caheronaun in the beginners' chase, and both should take plenty of stopping at the seaside venue.