Sport Horse Racing

Monday 23 April 2018

Stars can shine in Fly's absence

Ronan Groome

The gloss has been taken off today's Punchestown card by the absence of Hurricane Fly, but there is still a lot to look forward to as the National Hunt season gathers momentum.

The Champion Hurdle winner was ruled out by Willie Mullins last week, and may not now appear until after Christmas with the trainer reported to be unhappy with the gelding's preparation.

Nevertheless, Mullins is represented by Thousand Stars in the Grade One Morgiana Hurdle today. The mare, which won the French Champion Hurdle during the summer, faces competition from two young pretenders in Oscars Well and Pittoni in a race that usually fares as a quality-over-quantity contest.

Oscars Well was a top-class novice last season, and possibly would have won the Neptune Hurdle at Cheltenham but for a last-flight blunder, while Charles Byrnes' Pittoni has been reinvigorated and was an impressive winner at Naas last time.

The race will provide a decent guide to the progression of both as Thousand Stars sets a high-class standard given her consistent proximity to Hurricane Fly over the past two seasons.

Elsewhere on the card, the Grade Two Craddockstown Chase is usually a good pointer in identifying a smart novice chaser. Realt Dubh took this last year before going on to score three Grade Ones, while Champion Chaser Sizing Europe won here two seasons ago.

Tom Cooper's Lucky William heads the betting after two impressive jumping displays, including a victory over one of his rivals today Whodoyouthink at Punchestown last time out.

Connections had high hopes for Lucky William last season, but after two falls and two near-misses, he was put away to retain novice status for this season.

He should take the beating here, although tough opposition comes in the form of Noel Meade's Monastrell and Henry de Bromhead's Days Hotel, both of which produced winning chasing debuts, with the latter particularly impressive at Down Royal. First Lieutenant, the Neptune Hurdle winner at Cheltenham last season, was due to take his chance in the Florida Pearl Novice Chase, but instead the owners have opted to rely on Last Instalment and Four Commanders.

The former named looks value here to topple the forecast favourite Donnas Palm. Last Instalment was impressive in beating Alpha Ridge on his debut at Galway and has the look of a typical Gigginstown chaser.

He had made his name on the point-to-point scene and was impressive in winning a classy bumper at Fairyhouse two seasons ago, the same bumper Pandorama won previously. He could easily be a top-class novice chaser this term.

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