Monday 24 July 2017

Arctic Fire can quench the threat of 'Vroum' in Champion Hurdle cracker

Finishing kick can give Paul Townend's mount the edge over high-class field in what is sure to be a thrilling renewal

Trainer Gordon Elliot. Photo: Sportsfile
Trainer Gordon Elliot. Photo: Sportsfile

Patrick Mullins

Punchestown throws out another fantastic card today, the second-last of this thrilling season. The trainers' title continues to ebb and flow and, for every blow my father Willie lands, Gordon Elliott has fired one right back.

We're fast approaching the final bell and, with Gordon still holding the advantage, we need every arrow to hit the target to reel him in.

The BETDAQ Champion Hurdle (5.30) is an absolute cracker of a race. Perennial Cheltenham runner-up My Tent or Yours travels over from England, as does Nicky Henderson's Brain Power.

Add in last year's winner Vroum Vroum Mag, County Hurdle winner Arctic Fire, Irish St Leger winner Wicklow Brave, Irish Champion Hurdle winner Petit Mouchoir - not to mention the most notorious racehorse around, Labiak - and the scene is set for just less than four minutes of fast and furious hurdling.

Ruby Walsh rides Vroum Vroum Mag and this fantastically consistent and versatile mare will fight tooth and nail to hold onto her crown despite the fierce opposition from all-male competition. She was victorious against My Tent Or Yours last year in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, and that form gives her an edge over Petit Mouchoir.

Her most dangerous rival could well come from her own stable in Arctic Fire, which defied top weight in the County Hurdle (not done since Clem Magnier's Albergo in 1960). He was also second to the peerless Faugheen in the 2015 Champion Hurdle, so he has the best form in the book to my eye.

I think he is most threatening off a strong pace, and with Petit Mouchoir, Ivan Grozny and Diakali all in the race, the throttle will be on the floor from the second the flag drops, which will suit this rapid finisher. He has a rare finishing kick, which could be telling.

I ride the talented but mercurial Wicklow Brave, which sports first-time blinkers. I've won four races on him and we finished on the heels of Nichols Canyon and Faugheen in a Morgiana not so long into the past. So a case can be made for the son of Beat Hollow.

If he consents to jump off quicker than he did in Cheltenham, he could have an each-way chance.

I'm also reunited with Bacardys in the Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle (6.05). We won a Grade One in Leopardstown in February and also took the Grade Two Aintree Bumper last season.

He was almost brought down at Cheltenham when running in the Neptune and Ruby wisely looked after him when he saw his chance was gone. I'm hugely excited to be riding him again and expect him to be bang there at the business end.

But it won't be easy. This race has huge strength in depth. Finian's Oscar is unbeaten and Colin Tizzard is having an unbelievable season. Death Duty has a fearsome reputation and it's curious to see him dropped to two and a half miles.

Bleu Berry is improving at a rate of knots and was impressive in Fairyhouse, while Kemboy was the first Irish horse home in the Neptune at Cheltenham.

Let's Dance won our stable staff a €50,000 bonus from Nathaniel Lacy Solicitors with her victory in Cheltenham, and - despite her Fairyhouse reverse - I think the geldings are going to find it a Herculean task to give her the 7lb mares allowance.

In the Bishopscourt Cup (3.40), the 14-year-old Shin A Vee is bidding for his third straight victory for Denis Cullen. However, I feel he will have to give best to the Ladies Cup winner Enniskillen, which is in form and was second in this race last year.

We run Arbre De Vie in the second race (4.20). He ran the best race of his life over this distance at a previous Punchestown Festival. He just needs a change of luck, having being brought down in Fairyhouse and in Cheltenham.

Dicosimo has ability but isn't an easy ride and this is his first handicap, which makes this a hard task for him.

There is a very competitive field for the Hanlon Concrete European Breeders Fund Glencarraig Lady Mares Handicap Steeplechase (4.55). We are represented by Retour En France, which is unexposed on this kind of ground. She appears to be in good form at home and we are expecting a bold show from her.

However, the standout horse in the field is Joseph O'Brien's Slowmotion. This five-year-old Soldier of Fortune mare has plenty of weight on her back but her class should see her home.

On The Fringe should win the Star Best For Racing Coverage Champion Hunters Steeplechase (6.40) for the sixth time, which would be an absolutely incredible feat. His Cheltenham run is good enough and Aintree was a blip.

I hope that Montalbano can reproduce his Fairyhouse run and provide me with a winner in the Donohue Marquees Novice Hurdle (7.10). Ruby rides Riven Light but my mount has plenty of ability.

Greco Romain's second-place finish to Sutton Place on his only start surely makes him an easy pick in the GVA Donal O'Buachalla Property Advisors Flat Race, where I ride Warthog for David Pipe.

Indeed, there are two raiders in the final race of day four. Warren Greatrex relies on Flemenskill for the Middleham Park Racing Club. David won't be coming over for the scenery and Warthog needs respect but Noel Meade's charge looks hard to beat.

PATRICK'S PICKS 3.40 Enniskillen 4.20 Arbre De Vie 4.55 Slowmotion 5.30 Arctic Fire 6.05 Let's Dance 6.40 On The Fringe 7.10 Montalbano 7.45 Greco Romain

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