Tuesday 20 February 2018

Carlito Brigante to put O'Leary in flying form

Runners abound once more for this afternoon's concluding session of yet another highly satisfactory Punchestown Festival, which also brings the curtain down on the National Hunt campaign.

The formidable father-and-son team of Willie and Patrick Mullins are set to retain their titles along with multiple champion jockey Ruby Walsh, while Shane Hassett is the latest winner of the junior crown.

The issue in the owners' category is less clear-cut, with JP McManus, who has monopolised the table with 14 wins, still having some ground to make up on Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud operation.

These substantial investors in the National Hunt sphere continue to spend lavishly and there could be just a single scorer apiece materialising for them today, as Willie Mullins also fields another strong team.

The strength in depth of the Mullins stable is emphasised by their six-strong challenge for the Tote Handicap Hurdle that shares top billing money-wise with the Airshow 100 Champion Hurdle for first-season jumpers.

Willie's teenage protege, Paul Townend, is in line to emulate role model Ruby Walsh as the top jockey of the week and will be aboard likely favourite C'est Ca in the Tote promotion.

Nicky Henderson's Cheltenham runner-up Radium, with Robbie Power deputising for the injured Barry Geraghty, and Mick Quinlan's Silk Affair, which scored last year in the Cotswolds, are decent English raiders here.

There's an even more potent visiting trio, on paper at least, tackling the Airshow 100 Champion Hurdle, which is the sole remaining Grade One race of the five-day gathering, including surprise Aintree winner Orsippus.

Defeated by fellow traveller Gilded Age at Doncaster, Davy Condon's mount came home in style to overhaul Triumph Hurdle runner-up Barizan in Liverpool, where the better ground was in his favour.

The same conditions going-wise persist this afternoon as Carlito Brigante, in Michael O'Leary's Westmeath county colours of maroon and white, attempts to recoup Cheltenham losses in that Triumph Hurdle.

Airshow 100 Champion

Hurdle (4.25)

Only nine runners, but a smart collection of young timber-toppers with a visiting trio of Triumph Hurdle runner-up Barizan, his Aintree conqueror Orsippus and Gilden Age, which beat the latter at Doncaster during the winter.

They comprise formidable opposition for the home defence headed by Carlito Brigante, which may not have been suited by the Cheltenham undulations when only a never-dangerous fourth in the Triumph Hurdle.

Fitted with blinkers for the first time as a jumper, Carlito Brigante, which won in some style at Musselburgh before the Cheltenham outing, will also benefit from a drier, less hilly circuit this time.

Verdict: Carlito Brigante to foil Orsippus.

ITBA Mares Hurdle (3.10)

Lots of runners here with lofty ambitions, including La Sarrazine, twice a winner at Doncaster for champion owner McManus and a rare Punchestown representative for Newmarket trainer James Fanshawe.

Alegralil is the other English hope with decent form this season for the in-form Donald McCain stable while Tarla, which has been in the money regularly in France, makes her debut for Mullins.

Aura About You and Serpentaria have Irish ratings that indicate they should make their presence felt along with No One Tells Me, successful here last year and back in the winner's enclosure on the flat recently.

Verdict: Aura About You looks worth a bet.

Irish Independent

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