Flawless Faugheen to march on
A year after the notion of Faugheen morphing into a champion hurdler was first floated so spectacularly, the recently-crowned hero returns to Punchestown.
Assuming that Jezki defects, the unbeaten colossus will tackle three inferiors under Ruby Walsh in the Queally Group Champion Hurdle. Of the condemned trio, his Willie Mullins-trained stablemate Arctic Fire is his closest rival on official ratings.
At Cheltenham, though, he was summarily dismissed by Faugheen. Arctic Fire so nearly paid his conqueror a fine compliment at Aintree before crashing out at the last flight.
In today's €200,000 Grade One, for all that it has been a good week for second strings, surely only a similar calamity will thwart Faugheen. If you include his point-to-point win three years ago this week, his flawless record checks in at nine. A perfect 10 awaits, then.
3.40 KFM Hunter Chase (banks) 2m 4f
Rohan's Pride, Shin A Vee and Mtada Supreme filled the first three spots last year.
The first two lack a recent run, while Mtada Supreme has won a point-to-point and been second in a hunter chase and a point-to-point here behind the re-opposing Hasty Times.
Verdict: Mtada Supreme could be the answer.
4.20 EMS Copiers Novice Handicap chase 2m 5f
Ruby Walsh opts for Val De Ferbet, which made it two from three over fences at Limerick. He could be a class apart, although he does love the mud.
Rule The World, second at Limerick, got closer to Fine Rightly when Stuart Crawford's charge won for a second time at Naas. Fine Rightly split Sizing Granite and Blood Cotil previously, which is fair form.
Shanahan's Turn has lost his way a little. His two wins here in the autumn were promising so he is interesting down in grade.
Verdict: A chance is taken on Shanahan's Turn firing again.
4.55 Hanlon Concrete EBF Mares' Chase 2m 5f
Last year's winner Burn And Turn is 10lbs higher now. She was thrashed by Vroum Vroum Mag at Fairyhouse and has plenty weight. Stablemate Annie Oakley is decent on her day, while Speckled Wood and Perfect Promise look fairly treated.
Perfect Promise was a creditable third to Vroum Vroum Mag at Limerick and better ground here may aid her cause.
Verdict: Perfect Promise has nap appeal under Davy Russell.
5.30 Queally Group Champion Hurdle (grade 1) 2m
Faugheen is an indiscriminate wrecking ball that pulverises all-comers, with trip and ground seemingly immaterial.
His one suspect attribute is his jumping, but he was again given a freebie at Cheltenham, so it was never tested.
When the field briefly challenged two-out, he erred, and his downfall is unlikely to occur until something gets him at it early on. That won't happen today.
In Jezki's absence, it is left to Arctic Fire to keep him honest. He has been progressive and would have probably won the Aintree Hurdle but for falling.
Verdict: Faugheen all day long.
6.05 Tattersalls Champion Novice Hurdle (grade1) 2m 4f
Alpha Des Obeaux was running really well when crashing out at Aintree. Thistlecrack franked that form by chasing Killultagh Vic home on Wednesday.
Nichols Canyon won tidily over this trip at Aintree, having been third at Cheltenham. A three-time Grade One winner, he is racing more efficiently, so he is going to be hard to beat.
Like Alpha Des Obeaux, Outlander might ideally need further, while the manner of Sempre Medici's Fairyhouse win was taking. He beat Identity Thief at will and is an improver.
Verdict: Nichols Canyon is getting more professional.
6.40 Star Novice Hurdle 2m
Snake Eyes didn't run badly in a valuable handicap at Leopardstown but he isn't too reliable.
While Max Dynamite fell at Fairyhouse, he has generally been consistent. He is top-rated and well capable of vindicating as much. Tandem, Alton Bay and Theophilus are no forlorn hopes but need to step up again.
Verdict: Max Dynamite ought to be hard to beat.
7.10 ITBA Fillies' Scheme Bumper 2m 1f
Patrick Mullins has opted for Dani Salamanca, with Colin Motherway getting off the Wexford winner Pride Of The Braid to partner Hurricane Fly's Yeats three-parts sister, Avichi. The market will be interesting vis-a-vis the newcomers, with Carlisle winner Now Let Go among those to have shown promise.
Verdict: Avichi's pedigree is especially eye-catching.
7.45 Racing Post Hunters Chase 3m 1f
On The Fringe has been a revelation and bids for a fourth win in this. Noble Prince, Warne and Pearlysteps are the pick of the rest but have it all to do.
Verdict: If On The Fringe is right, he wins.