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Balnaslow can prove a class above rivals

ALL eyes will be on Balnaslow at Punchestown this evening, as Willie Mullins' promising Fairyhouse bumper winner makes the switch to hurdling.

A ready point-to-point scorer in October, the Gigginstown Stud-owned son of Presenting was awarded his bumper in the stewards' room, after being denied a short-head by Roque Angel.

The first past the post was deemed to have hampered Balnaslow in the latter stages and, while the decision to reverse the placings divided opinion, both horses emerged with plenty of credit.

Granted, today's two miles is unlikely to prove Balnaslow's optimum trip, but there is little in the way of worthwhile opposition among the other eight runners, and the slow ground will ensure a decent test.

Barring accidents, it will be a surprise if Davy Russell's only mount of the day doesn't get off the mark over flights at the first time of asking.

The champion trainer might double up courtesy of the returning Arvika Ligeonniere in the beginners' chase.

With Glibin, Tom Horn, Rourke's Cross and Down Under on duty in this two-and-a-half miler, Arvika Ligeonnaire will need to be fairly well wound up on his first start for 747 days, but Mullins is renowned for winning with horses in this type of situation.

Successful here on his final start at the Festival in 2010 having finished fourth at Cheltenham, the Ruby Walsh-ridden seven-year-old is the best horse in the race. If he is anywhere close to full fitness, he ought to take plenty of stopping

A first-time blinkered The Midnight Club is also likely to be popular for Mullins and Walsh in the Breakfast With Hector 2FM Handicap Chase. However, having been out of form, the 11-year-old has plenty on his plate here with top-weight over three miles, six furlongs.

The Bishop Looney and Smoking Aces are two others in the €25,000 feature that have solid credentials, but preference is for the outsider West Cork Flash.

A three-time point-to-point winner for Sinead O'Sullivan that looked a dour stayer when finishing second at Thurles in March, the eight-year-old will relish conditions and has no weight on his back.

Tornant, representing Fran Flood and Mark Walsh, should also benefit for a step up in trip in the three-mile handicap hurdle, while Operating is the day's nap selection in the bumper. Second in both its starts to date, Jessica Harrington's five-year-old has the form in the book.

Irish Independent