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Quevega’s out to silence doubters but Solwhit may have her measure

It's not often that staying hurdles capture the imagination quite so vibrantly as this evening's Punchestown showdown between Quevega and Solwhit does.

Willie Mullins' awesome mare re-wrote the record books with that stunning last-gasp fifth successive triumph at Cheltenham in March, but the lack of worthy opposition that she faces in that Grade Two remains a slight blemish on her legacy. The presence of Solwhit in today's Ladbrokes-sponsored World Series Hurdle finally gives her an opportunity to silence the doubters once and for all.

There is no more qualified rival than Charles Byrnes' eight-time Grade One winner.

Successful in the 2010 Irish Champion Hurdle, he has made a smooth transition to this division since returning from injury and facile wins at Cheltenham and Aintree left everyone pondering how a clash between himself and Big Buck's might play out.

Davy Russell missed out on both those memorable feats, but the reigning champion takes over from Paul Carberry again now, as Ruby Walsh continues his glorious alliance with Quevega.

Bidding for a fourth successive win in this, Walsh's mount is unbeaten in seven starts across three years.

Ominously, her last defeat on home soil came when third to Solwhit here over two miles in 2009. Mullins also saddles Zaidpour and Fiveforthree, the 2009 winner of this that comes here following a barnstorming return to action at Cheltenham.

Reve De Sivola, one of five English raiders on duty on day 3, adds further depth to proceedings. In total, on another brilliantly competitive eight-race card, there are five Cheltenham Festival winners in attendance, two of which, Benefficient and Alderwood, are among a 10-strong field for the Ryanair Novice Chase.

The respective Aintree and Powers Gold Cup heroes Special Tiara and Realt Mor also feature there, so that should be another cracking Grade One.

3.40 Stephen's Green Hibernian Club Hurdle 2m 4f

Marito wasn't done with when he crashed two-out in the Jewson. He had previously beaten Mount Benbulben at Naas, so is a fascinating contender back over flights.

Nicky Henderson relies on Malt Master, which hasn't had so precocious a profile over fences this term. Frawley reappears for a first time since winning a maiden hurdle in September 2011, while Bell Weir won a modest maiden at Gowran more recently.

Mad Brian disappointed in a handicap last time, but is better than that.

Verdict: Marito looks a real contender back over flights.

4.15 Bibby Financial Services Handicap Chase 2m

The in-form Barneys Honour gets in here off 120, having scored nicely over hurdles off 121, while Darenjan, A Fine Young Man and Paddy O Dee also won last time.

Plan A is a dark horse. He gets in off a light weight, is thrown in on his hurdles form and was placed behind the likes of Oscars Well and Special Tiara in the autumn.

Verdict: Plan A is handicapped to win if anywhere close to his best.

4.50 Avon Ri Corporate & Leisure Resort La Touche Cup 4m 1f

Arabella Boy has a lot of weight and misfired at Cheltenham. However, he has won his last two on this course, and was brought down when running well here a year ago.

Previous winners Uncle Junior and Another Jewel have also been out of sorts, while Big Shu, second to Arabella Boy in February, won the equivalent race at Cheltenham.

Long Strand was third in February, but is better in at the weights and has won two of its last three point-to-points in good fashion.

Verdict: Long Strand is weighted to have a big say.

5.30 Grade One Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle 3m

Quevega's winning performance at Cheltenham was, indeed, hugely creditable. Little went right for her, but she never threw in the towel, eventually motoring home to win going away.

She is an extraordinary mare that comes here fresher than most.

Solwhit is the best horse she has faced in some time and beat her, Punjabi and Sizing Europe in the Champion Hurdle here after she first won at Cheltenham in 2009.

The second-best two-miler in the country after Hurricane Fly for a long time, facile triumphs at Cheltenham and Aintree suggest he is every bit as good over three.

In rain-softened ground, Reve De Sivola is another real contender. A Grade One winner here in 2010, his chance at Cheltenham was compromised by a drying sod.

Zaidpour often finds one too good at this level, though Fiveforthree is respected on the back of a stunning reappearance to be third in the Coral Cup after two years off.

Holywell is progressive, but wasn't nearly good enough for Solwhit at Aintree.

Verdict: Solwhit appeals as the best horse in this if his schedule hasn't taken a toll.

6.05 Naas Court Hotel And Il Fico Restaurant Handicap Hurdle 3m

Call Rog, impressive at Fairyhouse, might be the pick of the recent winners.

Rogue Angel had a first run since before Christmas when third at Gowran. He steps up to three miles here, and looked smart when winning a bumper and maiden hurdle.

Verdict: The Davy Russell-ridden Rogue Angel should come on for his last run.

6.40 Grade One Ryanair Novice Chase 2m

Benefficient has matured into a fine novice, following up his Arkle Chase rout by digging deep to claim a brave win in the Jewson at Cheltenham.

Runner-up Dynaste and fifth Captain Conan franked the form with stylish Aintree wins, while the third Changing Times was unlucky when falling at the last at Ayr.

That is proper form and the drop back to two miles isn't an issue for such a versatile animal.

Special Tiara was a shock winner at Aintree. You couldn't write it off as a fluke, but he is a good ground-lover that has a bit to find on form in this company.

Arvika Legionnaire, Baily Green, Buckers Bridge and Oscars Well all have quality but lack some consistency, while Texas Jack might find this trip sharp enough.

Realt Mor has been a real revelation for Gordon Elliott, making all to claim an emphatic Powers Gold Cup victory.

Mount Benbulben, fourth then, paid him a compliment on Tuesday, so it will be fascinating to see how he fares now over the minimum trip.

Verdict: Benefficient is another that has been busy, but his form is top-notch.

7.15 Orchid Transport Mares' Novice Hurdle 2m

Bobbina won a tidy race at Limerick with little fuss and could still improve.

Kates Benefit was a wide-margin victor at Navan, while Upsie won well at Naas. Her stable-mate Twigline had Bobbina behind when second to Missunited at Limerick.

Speckled Wood hosed up in a Clonmel handicap. Regally bred, she is on a hat-trick.

Verdict: Speckled Wood might not be done winning yet.

7.45 Kildare Post INH Flat Race 2m

Such a strong case could be made for a bundle of these talented horses, but Turnandgo commands the most respect by far under Patrick Mullins, particularly after such an emphatic triumph at Clonmel recently.

Quickpick Vic flopped at Aintree, but is very highly regarded by Tony Martin, while Apache Jack and Railway Tommy are just two others that appeal as being above average.

Verdict: In an open heat, Turnandgo gets the nod for Team Mullins.

Irish Independent