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Solwhit to edge out serial winner Quevega

By Richard Forristal

It's not often that staying hurdles capture the imagination quite so vibrantly as this evening's Punchestown Festival showdown between Quevega and Solwhit.

Willie Mullins' awesome mare re-wrote the record books with a stunning last-gasp fifth successive triumph at Cheltenham last month, but the lack of worthy opposition she faces in that Grade Two remains a slight blemish on her legacy.

The presence of Solwhit in the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle finally gives her an opportunity to silence the doubters once and for all as there is no more qualified rival than Charles Byrnes' eight-time Grade One winner.

Successful in the 2010 Irish Champion Hurdle, he has made a smooth transition to this division since returning from injury and facile wins at Cheltenham and Aintree left everyone pondering how a clash with Big Buck's might play out.

Davy Russell missed out on both those memorable feats, but the reigning champion takes over from Paul Carberry again now, as Ruby Walsh continues his glorious alliance with Quevega.

Bidding for a fourth successive win in this, Walsh's mount is unbeaten in seven across three years.

Ominously, her last defeat on home soil came when third to Solwhit here over two miles in 2009.

Solwhit beat Quevega, Punjabi and Sizing Europe in the Champion Hurdle here after she first won at Cheltenham in 2009.

The second-best two-miler in the country after Ulster-owned Hurricane Fly for a long time, facile triumphs at Cheltenham and Aintree suggest he is every bit as good over three.

Solwhit appeals as the best horse in this if his schedule hasn't taken a toll.

Mullins also saddles Zaidpour and Fiveforthree, the 2009 winner of this race that comes here following a barnstorming return to action at Cheltenham. Reve De Sivola, one of five English raiders on duty on day three, adds further depth.

In total, on another brilliantly competitive eight-race card, there are five Cheltenham Festival winners in attendance, two of which, Benefficient and Alderwood, are among a 10-strong field for the Ryanair Novice Chase.

The respective Aintree and Powers Gold Cup heroes Special Tiara and Realt Mor also feature there, so that should be another cracking Grade One.

In the opening Stephen's Green Hibernian Club Hurdle, Marito looks a real contender back over flights and gets the nod.

Marito wasn't done with when crashing two out in the Jewson. He had previously beaten Mount Benbulben at Naas, so is a fascinating contender back over flights.

Plan A is handicapped to win the Bibby Financial Services Handicap Chase if anywhere close to his best.

Plan A gets in off a light weight, is thrown in on his hurdles form and was placed behind the likes of Oscars Well and Special Tiara in the autumn.

Long Strand is weighted to have a big say in the Avon Ri Corporate & Leisure Resort La Touche Cup.

Long Strand has won two of its last three point-to-points in good fashion.

Belfast Telegraph


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