'Stormy' to chase home 'Benie' while 'Raffles' can land odds for Henderson
It's a case of the calm after the storm on the final day of the Punchestown Festival with small fields dominating the two Grade Ones at the Kildare track.
Only five go to post in the Grade One Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle (3.50) but it's all about Benie Des Dieux as Willie Mullins's eight-year-old bids for back-to-back victories.
Mullins has lorded affairs in recent years, winning six of the last nine renewals, and it's inconceivable to think that Benie Des Dieux will not add to that tally barring a major mishap.
She had the Mares' Hurdle at her mercy at the Cheltenham Festival before parting ways with the now-retired Ruby Walsh at the last but compensation to the tune of a €59,000 winner's cheque awaits.
Nicky Henderson's With Discretion looks a bright prospect but this is a massive step up in class after more than a year off the track and were there to be an upset, it would most likely come via Closutton stablemate Stormy Ireland.
Mullins's charge has shown great consistency all season with her second in the Mares' Hurdle a big leap forward and Rachael Blackmore's mount is the selection in the 'without the favourite' market.
Mullins has been even more dominant in the Grade One AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle (4.25), where he has landed the last six runnings, but he faces a decent test to make it a magnificent seven.
French Made improved significantly to land a Fairyhouse Grade Two 12 days ago with the smart pair of Gardens Of Babylon and Coeur Sublime behind but Paul Townend's ride is up against some similarly classy types.
Joseph O'Brien's Fakir D'oudairies was fourth when going off joint-favourite against older horses in the Supreme before improving again to only go down by a neck to Pentland Hills in an Aintree Grade One.
That may take the sting out of him, however, whereas Henderson's Fusil Raffles comes here fresh having skipped Cheltenham following an impressive Grade Two win at Kempton in February, and he may prove best under Daryl Jacob.
The Grade B Ballymore Handicap Hurdle (5.35) is an interesting 25-runner affair with smart types like Mullins's Mr Adjudicator, Jessica Harrington's 2014 Champion Hurdle hero Jezki, and O'Brien's recent winner Ivanovich Gorbatov heading the weights.
Harrington's Woodland Opera has a great record around here and is a live contender under Robbie Power but preference is for Tony Martin's Golden Spear, with Eoin O'Connell again taking off a valuable 5lbs.
The eight-year-old was down to run here earlier in the week and looks like he has been laid out for the festival having been off the track since finishing best to land a handicap hurdle at Down Royal in good style last November.
O'Brien's Arkwrisht - which ran well for long periods in the Irish Grand National - is given another chance to finally deliver the goods, dropping back to this shorter 3m½f trip under Andrew Ring in the Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase (5.0).
The always eventful Punchestown Charity Race (6.40) is worth keeping an eye on as former Wexford footballer Redmond Barry switches his boots for a saddle aboard Gordon Elliott's well-fancied Flat To The Max in the festival finale.
As the door of the jumps season closes, another opens as attention switches to the Flat for the summer and all focus on these shores will be centred on Gowran Park tomorrow.
The Listed Victor McCalmont Memorial Stakes (3.55) is the feature prize at the Kilkenny track where likely favourite Who's Steph will take some pegging back for Ger Lyons and former champion jockey Colin Keane in the €55,000 contest.
The four-year-old Zoffany filly lost nothing in defeat in a similar event at Cork last month and should have a few pounds in hand of her five rivals if putting her best foot forward once again.
John Oxx's Could Be King will take all the beating in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Race (3.20) after a fine third in last month's 2,000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown and the son of Bated Breath looks the classiest of the five-runner field.