Solwhit to lead Auteuil raiding party
JUNE temperatures might be soaring, but the jump-racing scene in France is only reaching its climax at Auteuil, where a big Irish challenge will descend this Sunday.
The two stalwarts leading the raiding party on the French Champion Hurdle are the Charles Byrnes-trained Solwhit and Thousand Stars, which is bidding to complete a notable hat-trick in the race for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh.
Byrnes has confirmed Solwhit will bid to end a memorable campaign on a high in France, the country where he began his racing career, when winning at Enghien as a three-year-old.
This year has been his best on the track as, despite a near two-year injury lay-off, the nine-year-old has shown top-class form over three miles.
Having made the most of the enforced absence of legendary stayer Big Buck's by winning the World Hurdle at Cheltenham, he followed up in the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree, but then had to be withdrawn before he was due to take on Quevega at Punchestown.
Blood was found on his nose at the Co Kildare track, but the problem turned out to be little more than a scratch and he is now set to tackle the Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil.
To capture the three-mile-one-furlong Grade One contest he will most likely have to overcome the Paul Nicholls-trained Celestial Hero, which had Thousand Stars back in fourth when capturing last month's Prix La Barka, but Byrnes remains optimistic.
"He's fine at the moment and he's going to get the ferry over to France this evening," the Co Limerick handler said. "It's the end of a long season, but he seems in good form and we'll see what happens on Sunday."
Apart from Thousand Stars, Mullins has also entered Back In Focus, On His Own and Zaidpour.
Two other Irish jumpers heading to foreign shores this weekend are champion hunter chaser Salsify and Declan McNamara's Mossey Joe – both of which are heading to Stratford.
The £25,000 Stratford Champion Foxhunters Chase is up for grabs and Salsify looks sure to start favourite to follow up his wins for the father and son team of Rodger and Colman Sweeney at Cheltenham and Punchestown.
While extremely fortunate to claim the spoils after Oscar Delta unshipped Jane Mangan on the Prestbury Park run-in, the Sweeney stable star was back to his best at Punchestown where he slammed Oscar Delta by 35 lengths.
Salsify is sure to appreciate the ground conditions at Stratford and the fact that he won at the venue last year is also a boon to his chances.