Faugheen can turn back clock to eclipse Samcro as jumps action heats up
Christmas has come early for jumps fans with a mouth-watering duel between Faugheen, Samcro and Supasundae in tomorrow's Grade One Morgiana Hurdle (2.15) at Punchestown.
The bubble around Samcro hasn't burst after his Down Royal reversal two weeks ago but there are certainly plenty of questions to answer as Gordon Elliott's six-year-old faces a host of top-class hurdlers.
Samcro is likely to improve significantly for that outing but he'll have to with last year's winner Faugheen bidding to make it eight victories in succession for the all-conquering Willie Mullins.
The 2015 Champion Hurdle winner started and finished the season in some style - he closed his campaign with a bloodless Champion Stayers Hurdle victory over 3m at the Kildare track - but had several problems in between.
Pulling up mysteriously at Leopardstown's Christmas Festival was followed by a second behind Supasundae in the Irish Champion Hurdle before finding the going too quick in Cheltenham's Champion Hurdle.
Ruby Walsh has made no bones about saying that he thinks Rich Ricci's 10-year-old requires more of a stamina test in the heyday of his career but Ireland's highest-rated hurdler provides stiff competition and could have Samcro's number.
Jessica Harrington's Supasundae was a revelation last season, taking two Grade Ones and proving versatile from 2m to 3m, but normally takes a run to shine and may be best watched.
The Mullins pair of Sharjah and Wicklow Brave are also capable of picking up the pieces if needed.
Elliott has taken the Grade Two Florida Pearl Novice Chase (1.40) for the past two years with smart sorts - A Toi Phil (2016) and Jury Duty (2017) - and Blow By Blow can make it a hat-trick.
Martin Pipe winner at this year's Cheltenham Festival, Blow By Blow did everything expected of him on his chasing debut at Galway and looks a smart prospect over the larger obstacles.
The concluding bumper (3.55) may also provide some early Festival clues with the exciting clash of Elliott's Malone Road and Mullins's Mt Leinster.
Punchestown is also the place to be today and Gavin Cromwell's Lady Camelot is one to keep an eye on in her jumping debut in the opening 3-Y-O Hurdle (12.05).
It's hard to believe Pat Kelly's Mall Dini - 2017 Pertemps winner and second in this year's Kim Muir - is still a maiden over fences and the Philip Reynolds-owned eight-year-old should rectify that in the beginners chase (12.35).
The Grade Two Craddockstown Novice Chase (1.10) is today's feature with Mullins's Cadmium fancied to score but he faces stiff opposition in the shape of stablemate Voix Du Reve and the Gigginstown pair of Elliott's Hardline and Henry de Bromhead's Mind's Eye.
Mullins again holds many of the aces in the Listed Mares Hurdle (2.20) where the classy Stormy Ireland should be able to assert her dominance to edge stable companion Good Thyne Tara.
Tomorrow's jumps card at Cork keeps up the quality theme with a couple of decent prizes up for grabs and Rooster Byron can continue Paul Nolan's good form to take the handicap hurdle (1.55) in the hands of Bryan Cooper.