Day four of the Punchestown Festival sees the return of Hurricane Fly who will be out to make amends for his Cheltenham disappointment when he lines up in the feature event of the afternoon, The Rabobank Champion Hurdle (Grade 1).
Willie Mullins’ superstar hurdler was many people’s ‘banker’ of the Cheltenham Festival but he ultimately ran a bit flat and finished a disappointing third. For the first time in his career ‘The Fly’ has something to prove on the back of a disappointing run and punters who avail of his short odds might not be as comfortable throughout the race as expected. Although he is the most likely winner of the race, at odds of 1/3 he represents no value and it may be worth opposing him. Mullins is responsible for three of the four runner field and Zaidpour may have his best chance of beating Hurricane Fly this afternoon. He finished eighth in the Champion Hurdle, six-and-a-half-length’s behind ‘The Fly’ but he has a lot more in his favour this afternoon. He will relish conditions as all of his six wins have come on soft or heavy ground. He is two years younger than Hurricane Fly and he may have some improvement left in him. He is very consistent as he has only finished outside the top two on two occasions (both at Cheltenham on good ground). At around 8/1 he represents good value and is worth a small stakes bet.
The opening contest, the Ryanair Novices’ Chase, is the first of three Grade One’s on the card, and it sees crack staying chaser First Lieutenant drop back to two-mile. Mouse Morris’ gelding ran a terrific race at the Cheltenham Festival when chasing home Bob’s Worth in the RSA but he faces a different proposition this afternoon. Menorah silenced all his critics at Aintree when winning the Grade One Betfair Manifesto Chase over 2m4f and will take a lot of beating in this afternoon’s contest. However, with the conditions being so testing I expect this race to turn into a test of stamina and that is something First Lieutenant has in abundance. Admittedly, both horses won’t be in love with the ground but First Lieutenant has winning form on the ground whereas Menorah hasn’t encountered anything like these conditions. For that reason, slight preference is for Mouse Morris’ charge who would be a fitting winner of a race sponsored by his owner Michael O’Leary.
The last of the three Grade One’s is the Cathal Ryan Memorial Champion Novices’ Hurdle and Mullins saddles yet another favourite in the form of Felix Yonger. This horse was second to the mighty Simonsig at Cheltenham and was 11-length’s clear of the field which suggests he isn’t a bad horse. He was winning form on the ground and staying seems to be his forte so he should have no problem with the 2m4f trip. However, I’ve a slight concern that he may prove vulnerable to a horse like Lyreen Legend who will relish conditions. Felix Yonger improved for good ground at the Cheltenham Festival and in this evening’s conditions it may be worth taking him on with Lyreen Legend.
The Star Best For Racing Coverage Novice Hurdle at 6.40 looks a competitive event and I fancy two horses in the race. Captain Dancer is an interesting recruit to Charles Byrnes’ stable and was well-backed when getting off the mark at Tipperary on his hurdling debut. Any market support for this horse would be very interesting but he may not be suited by the ground. A horse that will love the ground and who stays further is Terminal from the Mullins camp. A winner of three NHF races in France before joining Mullins’, he made a very good impression when winning easily on his hurdling/Irish debut at Navan. He was rather disappointing next time out behind Galileo’s Choice, albeit the way the race was run wouldn’t have suited him. He is a confident selection to bounce back to winning ways and continue Mullins’ great string of form.
The concluding race, the ITBA Fillies Scheme Premier Bumper is next to impossible to work out but if handling the ground then Lughnasa and Lady Of Glencoe shouldn’t be far away. The market will be the best guide as to who is expected to handle conditions and it may be best to wait until minutes before the race to have a bet.