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So Young to confirm promise

Willie Mullins looks to have a treble chance on his return to Punchestown, the scene of his unprecedented five-timer last Sunday week -- assuming the course passes a precautionary 8am inspection.

The Closutton handler has strong claims with likely favourites So Young, Hampshire Express and Popcorn in that order of preference.

French import So Young, which ran away with a Leopardstown maiden hurdle on his Irish debut over Christmas, resumes in the Festival Offers Novices Hurdle.

Mullins relies on So Young instead of last month's equally impressive Leopardstown winner Day Of A Lifetime, and the drop back of half a mile to the minimum trip should not unduly bother Paul Townend's mount in the absence of Dermot Weld's pair Hidden Universe and Endless Intrigue.

The odds about So Young this time are unlikely to be as generous as when this previous Saint-Cloud Flat scorer made his jumping debut.

Big Game Hunter seems devoid of tactical pace at two miles, and The Pier was a fortunate winner in Thurles.

However, both the lightly-raced Hampshire Express and Popcorn, which likewise bring winning credentials to today's engagements -- from Thurles over fences and in a Clonmel bumper respectively -- may have to work somewhat harder to top up the yard's excellent strike-rate.

Subsequent facile Fairyhouse victor Bob Lingo was overhauled late on by Hampshire Express in early November at the Tipperary track. Roi Du Mee, which romped home in Limerick six weeks ago, was also outpaced by the Mullins runner over hurdles in Downpatrick last March.

Whether a greater stamina test here will allow Hampshire Express confirm those previous victories is open to debate.

But there's plenty of scope for improvement in this horse and he should have the edge over the likes of Healys Bar and Time Electric.

Willie and son Patrick will no doubt be hopeful of teaming up successfully again with Popcorn, which they launch over timber in the Goffs Sale Maiden Hurdle. He's marginally preferred to Tofino Bay, a staying-on fourth to Cottrelsbooley on his comeback at Leopardstown six weeks ago.

Nina Carberry has an outstanding chance of sharing the riding honours with Townend after the rescheduling of the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase.

She scored on the presumed hotpot Garde Champetre in this race in 2008.

Beaten a neck by Lacdoudal in the Cheltenham version last November and prepped since at Naas when runner-up again over hurdles, Enda Bolger's veteran should cope with 135-rated Becher Chase third One Cool Cookie in the opener, which commemorates Bolger's late mentor PP Hogan.

And Carberry's booking for Valleymount makes Francis Flood's Cork heroine the nap for the finale, the Goffs Sales Mares Flat race.

Irish Independent