Vroum Vroum can show she's a capable deputy for Annie Power
The fourth day of Punchestown is nothing if not thought-provoking and the disappointing aspect of it all is that Annie Power has not been declared in the big one.
In foal to Camelot, Annie Power has not been retired officially, with Willie Mullins saying that her work this week lacked sparkle. Vroum Vroum Mag steps in for Rich Ricci.
The novice hurdle is a race of perhaps even more intrigue with Finian's Oscar attempting to ice the Grade One cake for Robbie Power, who has been on an incredible run. His Aintree effort was dazzling and Death Duty has a little to prove against him today.
Punchestown's rather enigmatic programme is summed up by two hunter chase events on the one card, with On The Fringe bidding to bounce back in the Champion event under the red-hot Jamie Codd.
3.40 KFM Hunters Chase 2m 4f
A race for hunters which are "the bona fide and unconditional property of farmers farming land in the Kildare Hunt District".
Shin A Vee is on the cusp of three successive victories in this and there seems no solid reason why he cannot realise the hat-trick for Denis Cullen. He is fine fresh and is generally prepped for this race alone, rarely running in any other event. It is a curious way to campaign a horse probably capable of winning handicaps but this race matters plenty to local owners.
Enniskillen finally won under Rules here on Tuesday but he is what he is and Shin A Vee holds him on previous meetings. Verdict: Shin A Vee can make it three from three in this.
4.20 EMS Copiers Novice Handicap Chase 2m 5f
A tricky contest, with the classy Diamond King heading the weights having been wisely pulled up when things had gone against him at Cheltenham.
He certainly comes into the picture and is in calmer waters now, though the money wagered on Le Prezien at the same Festival suggests that somebody believes JP McManus' steed is well-treated. However, there is a slight question mark about stamina.
Arbre De Vie ticks quite a few boxes for champion trainer Willie Mullins. He was second to Sort It Out at the Festival two years ago, yet is rated lower chasing than he was hurdling then. He was 14/1 when brought down in the Irish National, yet he is a good jumper. Verdict: Arbre De Vie has the assistance of Ruby Walsh and looks tempting.
4.55 Hanlon Concrete E.B.F. Glencarraig Lady Mares Handicap Chase 2m 5f
A race won last year by Definite Ruby, which has her chance of a repeat but she also has more on her plate.
Retour En France was nicely backed in a competitive heat at Navan last time and ridden to get the trip, which she did not. However, she moved nicely for most of the race, and it was over about this distance that she scored the time before. Willie Mullins probably targeted this since Navan. Cresswell Breeze is a rare runner for Anthony Honeyball here and has the addition of Jonathan Moore. Verdict: Take Retour En France to score under Ruby.
5.30 Grade One Betdaq Punchestown Champion Hurdle 2m
No Annie Power, and it appears that she may never run again, as she is not declared to run on Saturday.
Vroum Vroum Mag is a mare that has a chance of proving something of a subersub again for Mullins. Strictly on ratings, she has a fair bit on her plate, but she won this race last year and it may even be that she is best when running over two miles. She is a fair each-way price.
Nobody would give out were My Tent Or Yours to finally break a losing run that has featured some fine second-place finishes, including at Cheltenham and Aintree this year. Aidan Coleman steers today and he should run well.
The novice Labaik is not without a squeak. Moreover, despite planting himself at the start on Tuesday, Gordon Elliott is bullish he will consent to partake today. Verdict: Vroum Vroum Mag can do it for the girls at the expense of My Tent Or Yours.
6.05 Grade One Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle 2m 4f
This is a race to savour and preference is for Finian's Oscar, which attempts to give Robbie Power his seventh Grade One victory in around six weeks, one of them when this horse came from an unpromising position to win at Aintree.
He looked to be in trouble in that Liverpool event and, according to Power, class got him through. Indeed, in the end, he was well on top at the finish. Colin Tizzard is also in excellent form.
Many eyes will be on Death Duty here, considering how short he was and how fancied he was at Cheltenham. This offers a chance of redemption and connections seem happy to put a line through a run that was very much at odds with the quality he showed earlier in the campaign. Verdict: Death Duty could be a danger but may want softer ground and Finian's Oscar is a strong fancy.
6.40 The Star Champion Hunters Chase 3m 1f
Balnaslow has been in good heart this season and has Derek O'Connor's help, but he lacks the raw ability of On The Fringe, which admittedly has a lot to prove considering how disappointing he performed at Aintree - one of the first beaten.
On The Fringe ran not far off his best in the Cheltenham Foxhunters' contest and he loves this race, winning it remarkably for the first time seven years ago. Winning this would recall Earthmover, which won the Foxhunter twice, six years apart. Verdict: On The Fringe would be a popular winner and is worth another chance.
7.10 Donohue Marquees Novice Hurdle 2m
This is a really tricky race and one wonders was it easy for Ruby Walsh to choose Riven Light over two other runners for Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci, Montalbano and Bravissimo.
In any event, that is the choice he made, and the son of Raven's Pass is a tentative pick. His fourth to stablemate Bleu Berry at Fairyhouse was a step in the right direction and he should enjoy the better ground.
Another to consider is the free-going Chirico Vallis, which admittedly was a bit below his best when unfancied at Fairyhouse. He has plenty of ability, as does stablemate Morgan, which helps to give Gordon Elliott a strong hand. Verdict: Riven Light could justify Ruby Walsh's allegiance now.
7.45 GVA Donal O'Buachalla Property Advisors Flat Race 2m 2f
This is a race in which many could be given a squeak, perhaps partly because of no Closutton runner. Interestingly, there are two raiders in the line-up: the Warren Greatrex-trained Flemenskill and Warthog, a first runner here this week for David Pipe.
Perhaps the Greatrex runner can prove the answer. The stable rarely has Irish runners, so he must be fancied to perform in this. After a nice debut at Carlisle, he went close at Ffos Las, and this is not the strongest of Irish bumpers.
Mouse Morris rarely runs horses in these races but Beyond The Law is definitely to be feared. This five-year-old, which carries the colours of the Potts clan, ran into a smart horse at Navan last time and was far from disgraced. Verdict: A hard get-out stakes but Flemenskill is preferred to Beyond The Law.