Canyon can't be expected to stop Faugheen
Faugheen is a prohibitive 1/4 shot to secure a fifth Stanjames.com Morgiana Hurdle in a row for Willie Mullins and the biggest threat to his supremacy at Punchestown will come from within.
Keeping all of his big guns apart was always going to be a challenge for Mullins, and he has opted to pitch his exciting Nichols Canyon in here against his unbeaten Champion Hurdler, often fondly referred to as Faugheen the Machine.
It adds a little extra intrigue to the €85,000 Grade One, as Nichols Canyon emerged as a hurdler of real quality last term. David Mullins's mount's solitary defeat in six completed starts came when he finished third at Cheltenham, with hold-up tactics deemed to have not played to his strengths.
As a Grade One winner at Leopardstown, Aintree and Punchestown, he has serious potential. Crucially, though, he may be more of a staying prospect, and connections might be quite happy if he runs a good second here to Faugheen.
Mullins will also saddle Wicklow Brave, and the most potent of the three non-Closutton contenders is probably Henry de Bromhead's Identity Thief. He is a hurdler going places, but maybe not with the haste required to trouble Faugheen.
The domineering title-holder meets every challenge with the same sort of relentless, unforgiving efficiency. Some day something might get at him and test his less-than-fluent jumping, but that is unlikely to be tomorrow. Ruby Walsh's mount should simply be too good.
Surprisingly, neither Mullins nor Walsh feature in either of the two Grade Two novice chases. Lord Scoundrel sets a reasonable standard in the two-mile version and My Hometown is a still unknown quantity, but Sizing John is the one to keep on side.
Henry de Bromhead's Grade One-winning novice hurdler made a lovely fencing bow here last month. If he progresses from that, he should have a big say for Jonathan Burke.
In the longer version, Shantou Flyer concedes weight but couldn't be discounted. However, Colin Bowe's game Cheltenham winner might prefer better ground than he will get, so a chance is taken on Wrath Of Titans.
Bryan Cooper's Sandra Hughes-trained partner looks sure to do well over fences after obliging in style at Fairyhouse, and this isn't the most daunting opportunity. Tomorrow's nap vote goes to Noel Meade's Wes Hardin in the handicap hurdle. Ger Fox's mount was travelling sweetly when brought down at Down Royal recently, so he is trusted to make amends now.
At Cork, Mullins's Grade One bumper winner Bellshill should make a successful hurdle debut under Paul Townend, while local handler Robert Tyner has some decent chances on the card. He re-introduces Leap Dearg in the €24,000 handicap chase, and it would be no surprise to see the Philip Enright-ridden top-weight collect.
Today at Punchestown, Mullins and Cooper can combine to deliver the nap with Outlander. A cracking novice hurdler, the Stowaway gelding might be a little more streetwise than Gordon Elliott's Free Expression.