Hurricane Fly will finally get the chance to atone for his 2009 defeat when he faces three rivals in tomorrow's Dobbins & Madigans Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.
While they comprise a select representation of our best two-mile hurdlers, sadly this is the fifth year in a row – and a sixth time in seven years – that the €80,000 Grade One has attracted just four runners. That does not reflect well on the race and, much as the prospect of a first clash with the seemingly re-energised Go Native is an intriguing one, Hurricane Fly cannot be expected to do anything other than win at his ease.
For all that the surprisingly tame defeat of Willie Mullins' stable star at Cheltenham last March dented his aura of invincibility, he remains the most distinguished two-mile hurdler around. On his only subsequent start at the Festival here in April, Hurricane Fly looked similarly subdued, but he still ground out a creditable victory.
On the assumption that the eight-year-old's early reappearance can now be taken as an indication about his renewed well-being, he should clock up his 12th win at the highest level under Ruby Walsh. Captain Cee Bee and Unaccompanied shouldn't pose any threat to an on-song Hurricane Fly, so any hope of a meaningful contest may rest with Go Native.
Noel Meade's 2009 Supreme Novices' Hurdle hero has returned from a long lay-off to show plenty of zest in two Flat races, latterly hosing up at Galway three weeks ago. Given his ability, Paul Carberry's mount cannot be discounted, but he will need the favourite to be operating at less than his best.
On the undercard, the two graded novice chases have just 10 runners between them. Nonetheless, both promise to be genuinely informative affairs.
Mouse Morris' Baily Green goes for an eighth win on the spin in the two-mile AGK Displays-sponsored edition, but, in heavy going, this is by far his toughest test. Twinlight, Jenari and Oscars Well are a formidable trio in receipt of weight.
A top-class hurdler that won two Grade Ones as a novice and was runner-up to Hurricane Fly in the Irish Champion Hurdle, Jessica Harrington-trained Oscars Well could do no more than he did when making a successful fencing bow here under Robbie Power last month. If he can build on that now, he is the one to beat.
In the longer Grade Two, Back In Focus, so impressive on his first try at the larger obstacles in Listowel, will be a popular choice for the Mullins-Walsh team. However, on form, Lyreen Legend has achieved most over both hurdles and fences, accounting for a bundle of smart animals when getting off the mark over fences at Galway. A similar performance might see Dessie Hughes' representative score under Bryan Cooper again.
In the maiden hurdle, Noel Meade's Gigginstown Stud-owned Road To Riches, a ready bumper winner at Naas last month, warrants the nap vote, with Mount Benbulben deserving of that honour at the same venue today.
Mullins' Mikael D'Haguent is among the opposition to Gordon Elliott's Davy Condon-ridden contender in the beginners' chase. At his best, the former top-class hurdler would be feared, but Mount Benbulben is more progressive.
Minsk's presence in the maiden hurdle will also be a decent draw for the Kildare venue today, as will that of Simenon, which switches back to hurdling in the conditions race after a fine summer on the Flat.