Douvan can deliver on vital day for Mullins team
Willie Mullins makes an all-out assault on the opening day of the Punchestown Festival as he bids to claw back Gordon Elliott's advantage at the head of the Irish trainers' championship and Douvan can lead his charge.
Douvan is the headline act as the Rich Ricci-owned chaser bids to get his career back on track with victory in a star-studded Champion Chase where the Closutton maestro is also represented by Min and Un De Sceaux with the €275,000 prize money likely to tell a huge part of the tale in his title bid.
The Champion Novice Chase is also high on Mullins's radar with Al Boum Photo primed to take down hot favourite Monalee while the other Grade One on a cracking first day will see Supreme Novices' Hurdle flop Getabird continue his rehabilitation against some stiff competition.
3.40 Kildare Hunt Club Fr Sean Breen Memorial Chase for the Ladies Perpetual Cup (Bank) 3m
Enda Bolger has farmed out this banks race winning six of the last 10 renewals and with four favourites obliging in as many years, likely hotpot Blue Templar has a lot in his favour.
He was third in a Cross Country Chase here two months ago and has the assistance of the brilliant Derek O'Connor but 18 career runs without a win doesn't inspire confidence.
Peter Maher's Enniskillen won the race last year and the evergreen 13-year-old is in fine form but preference is for a horse less than half his age, Vital Island, for Wexford trainer Richard O'Keeffe following wins at Borris House and Lingstown.
Verdict: Vital Island is the form choice.
4.20 Grade One Herald Champion Nov Hurdle 2m100yds
It was back to business for Getabird at Fairyhouse as he put his Cheltenham nightmare behind him and although he is the most likely winner, odds around even money don't represent value with several dangers lurking.
One of them is Supreme third Mengli Khan - beaten just two lengths by Summerville Boy and Kalashnikov - for the three-handed Elliott while Henry de Bromhead's consistent Paloma Blue always runs his race.
The best value may be English raider Vision Des Flos for Gold Cup-winning trainer Colin Tizzard. A winner here 12 months ago when trained by Robert Tyner, the five-year-old has only won once in six races since then but stayed on strongly behind Lalor at Aintree and should be in the money.
Verdict: A winner here last year, Vision Des Flos (e/w) can make the frame again.
4.55 Grade B Killashee Handicap Hurdle 2m100yds
Favourites have an appalling record in this race - no winners in the last 10 years - so punters are advised to search for value and a lightly-weighted candidate in this minefield.
Last year's winner Western Boy has been kept fresh by Pat Fahy and is an interesting contender, as is Jessica Harrington's Light That, second 12 months ago, which runs here off the same mark while Tony Martin's Golden Spear and Bolger's Ballyoisin have each-way claims.
Noel Meade may be the man to follow, however, and Disc Donc looks a progressive sort. The selection is Joey Sasa, a recent Dundalk winner which looks primed for this on ground that should see him at his best.
Verdict: Joey Sasa can do the business under Sean Flanagan.
5.30 Grade One BoyleSports Champion Chase 2m
Mullins runs four, Elliott also has a quartet and De Bromhead saddles the remaining two but all eyes will be on the Closutton trio of Douvan, Min and Un De Sceaux in one of the races of the week.
Nobody knows what would have happened had Douvan stayed on his feet at the fourth last in the Champion Chase when travelling sweetly but signs suggest he is back to his best.
If so, the eight-year-old is the best horse in the race but there are still question marks while stable-mate Min has had a long season and comes here 11 days after Aintree. He is thoroughly consistent but looked the winner before being outbattled by Politologue and this is likely to be a bridge too far.
Un De Sceaux is the fly in the ointment but he doesn't look the force of old while Doctor Phoenix - one of the most improved horses in training - looks best placed to upset the Mullins applecart for Elliott, although Douvan should be a class above.
Verdict: Douvan (nap) can make up for lost time and score for Paul Townend.
6.05 Goffs Land Rover Bumper 2m100yds
Another nice pot up for grabs in a race where very little is known about any of the 17 runners and point-to-point winner Commander Of Fleet looks Elliott's leading fancy.
Mullins has only one contender with his son Patrick taking the mount on Think Positive - fourth at Towcester when trained by Peter Hedger last November while Robert Tyner is up against it to win three years running with Design Matters out of his depth.
Philip Hobbs, a regular visitor to Punchestown, could hold the key with That's A Given however, which won on his only start at Huntingdon last month.
Verdict: That's a Given can score for Hobbs and amateur Richard Deegan.
6.40 Grade One Growise Champion Nov Chase 3m120yds
IN a crack field of 11, it's very debatable if any horse should be hovering around the 7/4 mark and yet Monalee is. No match for Presenting Percy when second in the RSA Chase, there are too many other options available to be playing on him at short odds.
With three Cheltenham Festival winners - Shattered Love (JLT), Rathvinden (National Hunt Cup) and The Storyteller (Plate) - there's no shortage of quality although this grade may be too much for the latter pair.
Throw Tizzard's recent Aintree winner Finian's Oscar and Mullins's Invitation Only into the mix and you have a classic renewal. Preference is for stable companion Al Boum Photo.
His Cheltenham spill was left well behind him earlier this month when lowering the colours of Shattered Love and there could be more to come.
Verdict: Al Boum Photo can edge a seriously competitive contest.
7.15 Dooley Insurances Flat Race 2m100yds
Harrington usually makes hay at her local track and she has a live contender in Barrington Court, second on both her career starts.
There are few clues to work with on many of the field and there have been some big-priced winners with 25/1 (three times), 33/1, 16/1 and 10/1 shots all prevailing in the past decade.
The Moone handler can buck that trend with De Bromhead's Malinas Jack the biggest danger.
Verdict: Kate Harrington can steer Barrington Court home in front.