Nichols Canyon can follow up for Ruby to land Stayers' double
Nichols Canyon will be the banker for many on day three of the Festival and, given the authority of his victory under Ruby Walsh at Cheltenham, one can see why.
Memorably having beaten Faugheen at this track two seasons ago, he spent most of his career over about two miles, but was a revelation in beating Lil Rockerfeller at Cheltenham. The last-named, trained by Neil King, is a really hardy rival, however.
Jody McGarvey has established a somewhat enigmatic relationship with the tearaway Great Field, which is unbeaten as a novice chaser for Willie Mullins, but with some blips along the way. These mistakes have been late in his races and he has different ground today. Unfortunately, there is no Altior among the opposition.
There are some really deep handicaps too as punters seek to gain an edge. Patrick Mullins' nap of the week, Next Destination, will carry plenty of support in the finale.
3.40 JLT Handicap Hurdle 2m 70yds
Sweet Company, a winner on the level at Galway last summer, is probably one step beyond the marksman here for Tony Martin.
He warmed up for this with a lovely run on the level at Cork behind Roconga, with Le Vagabond in between the pair. Le Vagabond has to be respected too, with Paul Townend riding, while Weightfordave represents a stable in sensational form. Old Castletown has Ruby Walsh's assistance but may find things happening too quickly. Verdict: Likely Sweet Company is very well-handicapped, though Le Vagabond will appreciate the big field.
4.15 pigsback.com Nick Coen Memorial Handicap Chase 2m
Hurricane Ben beat Don't Touch It comprehensively at Fairyhouse and the favourite had every chance, though it is a positive that he struck in a Grade One hurdle race at the Festival 12 months ago.
Potters Point is also a course winner and could have a bit to play with off 131 but lacks experience. Tully East was brilliant in the final race of day one at Cheltenham and the performance was such that he may be capable of following up. He jumped and cruised through the race, obviously getting on well with Denis O'Regan. Verdict: Tully East was ultra-impressive at Cheltenham and can follow up.
4.50 Friends First Cross Country Chase For The La Touche Cup 4m 1f
The longest race on the Irish racing calendar is also something of a benefit for trainer Enda Bolger.
Bolger has won the La Touche 13 times in the past two decades, expected to make it 14 here as Cantlow is a long way clear on general banks form.
Cantlow filled the runner-up spot behind stable companion Quantitativeeasing 12 months ago, and this appears a weaker renewal.
Mtada Supreme looks a bit of each-way value otherwise for the in-form Peter Maher, though he lacks the class of the favourite. Verdict: A poor enough renewal and it is very difficult to oppose Cantlow.
5.30 Grade One Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle 3m
Nichols Canyon may be able to back up his win in the Stayers' Hurdle here for Willie Mullins. He travelled strongly in that event, in which Unowhatimeanharry seemed to have every chance in third and was not quite as effective on the ground as he had been in easier terrain.
Nichols Canyon has often jumped right at his flights and he has an excellent Punchestown record, memorably beating Faugheen back in 2015. Completely unexposed at three miles, he skipped Aintree and should come here in decent shape, though he is a little quirky.
Many eyes will be on Sutton Place, which could be top-notch over staying trips, though his stamina will be tested in what could be a key race in the trainers' title battle. Verdict: Take Nichols Canyon to follow up his Cheltenham win when Lil Rockerfeller was second. Sutton Place can take second.
6.05 Shamrock Enterprises Handicap Hurdle 3m
This is an extremely competitive race and luck in running will be key.
Philip Reynolds has had an unbelievable run and Showem Silver may be able to follow on from a smooth win at Fairyhouse, when the faster ground apparently made the world of difference to him.
This is much tougher, yet he is unexposed, and should have more to offer. Hunters Call could be interesting at a price considering he won a bumper over two-and-a-half miles and will relish the ground. Screaming Rose is also not to be ruled out. Verdict: Showem Silver could be a pretty decent stayer on nice ground and the stable is in sensational form.
6.40 Grade One Ryanair Novice Chase 2m
The star two-miler, Altior, is not at Punchestown, but it is nonetheless an intriguing race.
A Great Field has been an exciting proposition this season, winning all three of his chase starts. He has been ridden throughout by Jody McGarvey, who again steers, and it is probable that he will establish a clear lead in his usual front-running manner. He can make late mistakes too and whether or not this ground plays to his strengths remains questionable.
Townshend, the apparent Willie Mullins second-string, could be a danger, but preference is for Ballyoisin. He enjoys nice ground, generally jumps brilliantly and comes here quite fresh. He should get a nice lead off the favourite and can go on to good things for Enda Bolger. Verdict: Take Ballyoisin to cause a mild surprise here under Mark Walsh.
7.15 Alanna Homes Mares Novice Hurdle 2m 70yds
Another deeply competitive contest.
It goes to show that you hardly need to put a class category in the race title to make it good, as this is a really smart contest for a novice hurdle. Asthuria, running in the colours of Hurricane Fly, seems the pick of the Willie Mullins runners, yet she has a bit to find with the Gordon Elliott-handled Barra on the form of the mares' novice hurdle at Cheltenham won by Let's Dance.
There was money for Barra then and the strongly-run two miles brought about a more powerful performance from her. Perhaps, however, she is simply improving, as she stepped up in distance at Fairyhouse yet again excelled herself.
The danger is that she is over the top and we can only guess that she is not but she must take the beating. Pravalaguna is also in with a chance. Verdict: Barra is a solid selection here.
7.45 Kildare Post (C & G) Flat Race 2m
Next Destination would hardly have been a huge price in yesterday's Champion Bumper so he deserves to be short here.
The Willie Mullins-trained son of Dubai Destination runs like a straightforward sort and, though he is penalised, so is Rathcannon, which might be the chief threat.
He bolted up when last seen at Cork but an absence of 294 days has to be a concern. With Robert Tyner in form, Midnight Stroll, by Sizing John's sire in Midnight Legend, can be given respect.
However, Next Destination should take all the beating. He was beaten just three lengths by Fayonagh, so it is hard to knock him. Verdict: This should go to Next Destination, which is impossible to pick holes in.