McManus to make gains
The gloves are off in the final days' racing of the season at Punchestown as the duel between Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud and title-holder JP McManus to be crowned champion owner on Saturday intensifies.
Starting the week €180,000 ahead, the O'Leary runners were obliged to play second fiddle to the McManus contingent which earned roughly €65,000 on Tuesday and more of the same looks very much in the offing today.
JP's emerald green and orange hooped colours will be sported by a posse of fancied contenders right from the start as Ainama seeks a belated return to winning ways in the AON Insurances Hurdle.
There are five more of his horses, including La Touche Cup favourite and top weight L'Ami, scheduled to perform also before the Alan King-trained Karabak tackles the featured Ladbrokes.com World Series Hurdle.
Then previous course winner Colbert Station will also have Tony McCoy's assistance for the Naas Court Hotel Handicap Hurdle and Captain Cee Bee attempts to put a poor Cheltenham effort behind him in the Ryanair Novice Chase.
The battle for supremacy between these hugely significant investors in jumping stock adds a bit more spice to the five-day festival and this evening's session offers something for every National Hunt enthusiast to enjoy.
The Ladbrokes promotion is a fascinating affair that sees those that finished behind Big Buck's and Time For Rupert in the Cheltenham equivalent looking for better reward, namely Powerstation, Karabak and Oscar Dan Dan.
Of that trio the ratings suggest Karabak is likely to shade the verdict over often-placed Powerstation and Oscar Dan Dan, which however didn't act on the downhill part of the Cotswolds track and could be a force this time.
This is a very competitive renewal though with Quevega and Berties Dream having hit the jackpot last month at Cheltenham, where Cousin Vinny, Kayf Aramis and Ninetieth Minute are also part of the roll of honour.
Tackling three miles for the first time are each of Cousin Vinny's stable companions Quevega, fresh from her back-to-back Mares Hurdle triumphs, and Mourad, which is the youngster of the 15-runner field.
Just over an hour later the ultra-consistent Osana, which was also in the money since at Aintree, renews Cheltenham rivalry with Riverside Theatre, Sports Line and Captain Cee Bee, which broke a blood vessel there.
This Ryanair Novice Chase went to Tiutchev in the Millennium Year and his Lambourn trainer, Nicky Henderson, is back for more today with Riverside Theatre in the colours of actor James Nesbitt.
Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle (5.30)
Last year's winning trainer Willie Mullins has three fancied contenders on this occasion with dual Cheltenham heroine Quevega and Mourad being joined by Cousin Vinny as they attempt to emulate Fiveforthree.
The former pair have yet to tackle three miles but on breeding that task should not be beyond them and even at Grade One level they will be prominent in the betting with the mare Quevega more than likely their main player.
Karabak and Powerstation are no strangers to this level of competition and are entitled to the height of respect on the balance of their form along with Berties Dream, which might require more ease in the ground.
Ideally suited by this improved going, Oscar Dan Dan's form from last winter ties in with Ninetieth Minute and Noble Prince and he may run into a place.
Verdict: Quevega merits the vote.
Ryanair Novice Chase (6.40)
Once more it's a case of Willie Mullins attempting to follow up Barker's success here a year ago and he relies now on Sports Line, a disappointment when running much too freely at Cheltenham, from three initial acceptors.
Captain Cee Bee likewise let his followers down on his return to Cheltenham, never getting competitive in the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy as Osana took third money and Riverside Theatre came fifth.
Psycho has prospered since going over fences again in recent weeks and comes here with a sporting chance of completing a hat-trick while Roberto Goldback should not be overlooked despite a patchy jumping record.
Verdict: Riverside Theatre may be a value bet.