Willie Mullins’ brilliant mare Quevega is the star attraction at Punchestown this evening.
A rare triple winner at the Cheltenham Festival, Quevega’s emphatic triumph at Prestbury Park this March was visually stunning, and she is expected to further enhance her pedigree by adding a second Grade One to her CV following a similarly effortless rout here 12 months ago.
Among her 10 rivals is fellow Cheltenham hero Carlito Brigante, but it is the prospect of a showdown with another mare, Voler La Vedette, that really captures the imagination.
While Voler La Vedette’s handler Colm Murphy will be looking to saddle his third Grade One victor of the week, his seven-year-old would emulate Quevega with an all-important first success at the highest level should she prevail.
In the day’s other showpiece, the Ryanair Chase, Realt Dubh and Captain Chris, responsible for four Grade Ones between them this term, renew rivalry.
When the pair last met, in the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham, Captain Chris had eight and three quarter lengths to spare.
It will be fascinating to see if Phillip Hobbs’ charge can confirm that superiority now.
Elsewhere on the card, Enda Bolger will be hoping for a lucky 13th win in the La Touche Cup, while Davy Russell continues his hunt for the riders’ title.
With Paul Townend ruled out of the last three days of the season after re-fracturing his collarbone on Tuesday, the current gap of five can only go one way.
3.40 Aon Hurdle
Son Amix is thrown in on official ratings, but two and a half miles on good ground might not bring his stamina sufficiently to bear.
Harpsy Cord won nicely at Limerick in March, and is a promising horse.
Verdict – Harpsy Cord.
4.15 Kildare Post Handicap Chase
Tawaagg, third to Coscorrig at Navan, is 16lbs better off with that one now. With Coscorrig, which won again at Fairyhouse,
burdened by top-weight, Ruby Walsh’s mount may be the more interesting prospect today.
This is the first time that Mirador Del Conde races over two miles on decent going since winning at Galway in October.
Verdict – Mirador Del Conde.
4.50 La Touche Cup
Garde Champetre is unbeaten in four over the banks course here. He ran a blinder to go down by just a couple of lengths when conceding lumps of weight at Cheltenham last time, and today’s weights are framed in such a way that he is almost impossible to oppose as he bids for a second win in this particular contest.
Verdict – Garde Champetre.
5.30 World Series Hurdle
Last year’s winner Quevega sets the standard on the basis of her devastating third win in the mares’ race at Cheltenham in March.
This does look a stronger race than the 2010 version, but Ruby Walsh’s mount will justifiably start favourite to follow up.
Mourad could give her more to do than when third last year after a fine effort to fill the same spot behind Big Buck's at Prestbury Park.
Won In The Dark managed a similar feat at Aintree, so he should show up well again.
Luska Lad and Voler La Vedette are both intriguing on their debuts over the distance. If Voler La Vedette sees it out, the game Fairyhouse winner won't be far away.
Verdict – Quevega.
6.05 Naas Court Hotel Hurdle
Alfa Beat is the one to beat. The grey competes off a 20lb lower mark than when successful in the Kerry National. Kerb Appeal reverts to three miles.
Verdict – Alfa Beat.
6.40 Ryanair Novice Chase
Realt Dubh bids for a fourth Grade One novice chase triumph. Noel Meade’s charge was fortunate at Fairyhouse last week following Noble Prince’s fall, but he is nonetheless a very good horse that will not be easily beaten.
Captain Chris held Realt Dubh in third when landing the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham. While on paper there is no reason to believe that form will be reversed, the outcome of this may depend on which of Realt Dubh or Captain Chris copes better with the greater emphasis on speed today.
Saludos is the best of the rest, but shouldn’t be good enough to win.
Verdict – Captain Chris.
7.15 INH Flat Race
Nicky Henderson saddles two impressive Ludlow winners, Sizing India and Featherintheattic. Their respective form is hard to quantify, but neither could have scored in better fashion than they did.
Vesper Bell is the pick of Willie Mullins’ three. When collecting at Fairyhouse in February, the Beneficial gelding accounted for the smart subsequent winner and Cheltenham bumper third Aupcharile.
Verdict – Vesper Bell.