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P.P. Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase (3m1f)
The card is headed is by two wonderful servants to the Cross Country sphere in Ballyboker Bridge and Josies Orders - now teenagers the pair of them.
Ballyboker Bridge is a dual winner of this race (2015 & 2016) and has also scooped the La Touche Cup at the Festival here in the spring as recently as 2019. His November second around here behind last year's winner of this, Neverushacon, suggests he's still got plenty enthusiasm for the task at hand.
Josies Orders is Cross Country royalty, with four Cheltenham wins including at The Festival in 2016. The JP McManus runner also won this contest in 2019. He's a year younger than Ballyboker Bridge at 13, but was well behind that rival in the Risk Of Thunder Chase here earlier in the season.
In any instance, it is Josies Orders' trainer Enda Bolger that saddles the interesting new recruit to Cross Country Chasing in SHADY OPERATOR in the McManus hoops.
He's just eight-years-old and is down near the foot of the weights for his debut in this sphere. He went off second-choice in the betting for 2019 Irish Grand National when trained by Joseph O'Brien and should improve here after two starts over regulation fences for his new handler. Bolger is a master in this art and a big showing is likely.
Blast Of Koeman shaped quite well over hurdles here on New Year's Eve on just his second start for new trainer Peter Maher. Stablemate Ballyboker Bridge is seemingly the star act but he could be one to go well at a price should he take to this unique discipline.
2.00 - I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Novice Hurdle (Listed, 2m½f)
Power Of Pause (third) ran well enough in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle over a similar trip last month, benefitting from a pace collapse, and should have decent claims here for the red-hot Willie Mullins stable. He's the lone representative from Closutton, which is almost noteworthy in itself.
Fire Attack was a faller in the same contest here four weeks ago and is one of two Gigginstown representatives for Joseph O'Brien now. Stablemate Uhtred was second to the smart Front View in a Cork maiden hurdle before he won a Listed Navan bumper in good fashion in December 2019. He's been off the track since and needs a good close look in the betting on his return to action.
THEDEVILSCOACHMAN gets the nod to score for trainer Noel Meade however. A winner at Cork in November on jumping bow, his lone defeat in four starts (Naas bumper scorer in January 2020) came when fifth behind Supreme Novices' Hurdle favourite Appreciate It at Leopardstown over Christmas. He won a Rated Novice Hurdle at Navan (2m1½f, heavy) in excellent style late last month and remains on the up. His ability to thrive on the likely testing surface here can be a major asset.
2.30 - Happy Birthday Sarah Ann Madden Maiden Hurdle Division 1 (2m4f)
Lifetime Ambition is the obvious one here. Jessica Harrington's charge has shown solid form in four hurdles starts so far and should be going close. He perhaps found a drop to 2m (heavy) against him when beaten favourite (third) here last month but it was another fair run. No shocks if he gets on the scoresheet now but punters may be wary of following him, particularly if he's an odds-on shot.
Patty D won a Limerick bumper (2m, heavy) at the beginning of December on his second run back from a break but he was a modest fourth over hurdles back there at Christmas over this trip (beaten 32-lengths) and needs to sharpen up his efforts over the obstacles.
Pont Aval was a useful prospect in bumpers in 2018/19 (winner at Ballinrobe) and cannot be too harshly judged on his Limerick hurdles bow (2m4f, heavy; 9-2) in December as that was his first run 609 days. He could be a different proposition now for the champion trainer/jockey combination.
A chance is given to December's point-to-point winner GOLD CUP BAILLY on first run under rules. Stuart Crawford's charge runs in the Simon Munir and Isaac Suede silks and she showed a good attitude to land that success between the flags. He's tongue-tied here and can put up a bold show on first start over timber.
3.00 - 2.30 - Happy Birthday Sarah Ann Madden Maiden Hurdle Division 2 (2m4f)
A bit of doubt over the Mullins/Townend runner in Division 1 of this maiden but far less reason to quibble with JUNGLE BOOGIE here. He made plenty of the running on debut in a Clonmel bumper (2m½f, heavy) in November but still had plenty up his sleeve when Angels Dawn came to challenge him; the 4-5fav running out a comfortable winner.
He should make a smooth transition to the jumping game over this increased distance and will be hard to handle in the scenario.
Ahead Of The Field, a brother to 2019 Cheltenham Champion Bumper winner Relegate, showed ability on first start in point-to-points in December 2019 and remains one with something to offer after only one run (pulled up) in that sphere since.
Broomfields Kan was a winner between the flags in October and joins Wild Atlantic Lady (up in trip) in scrapping for places. The mare has shown ability in bumper/hurdles at 2m on testing ground and could run herself into the money in a weak heat if taking to this increased stamina test.
3.30 - David Trundley Artist At Punchestown Handicap Hurdle (3m)
A wide open handicap hurdle for the stayers and the betting reflects that. Shane Crawley's mare SMITHS GIRL hasn't had many goes at this and she improved her lot when fourth upped to 2m4f (heavy) at this circuit four weeks ago against her own sex.
She doesn't do anything in great haste and so the further increase stamina-wise should be a positive thing for her. In a wide open contest, she should afford some each-way value to go well under Donagh Meyler.
Picture Of Home went off 4-1fav for a similar race on that card here last month for Ted Walsh having gone close previously at Naas (2m3f, heavy) in December. A mistake at the second last done for his chances that day (finished fifth) and there could still be plenty more to come from Jack Kennedy's mount.
The Trigger won five times on the trot in a little over five weeks for Ronan McNally back in the summer (three hurdles/two chases). He's run well enough in three attempts since and, reverting back to hurdles, it's no inconceivable he can defy this rating.
Multifactorial couldn't justify market support on handicap bow Gordon Elliott at Naas (2m6f, soft to heavy) in November and sports first-time cheekpieces. He's a possible improver, while Shar Whats Therush and Lee Valley Legacy are amongst the more reliable conveyances.
4.00 - Punchestown Festival Of A Different Colour Rated Novice Chase (2m)
Eight line up and certainly six of them will feel they've got decent claims, with All The Best and Cafe Con Leche facing stiff challenges.
Joseph O'Brien fires two, with Sempo joining Duc D'Allier in the mix. Donagh Meyler's charge unseated in a Grade 3 here last month (second unseat in three chase starts) but isn't one to dismiss just yet - with this being a more realistic assignment for him.
Duc D'Allier meanwhile made a fine start over fences considering he'd missed two-and-a-half-years from winning his maiden hurdle for Henry De Bromhead at Clonmel in June 2018 to a winning chase bow at Fairyhouse (2m, heavy) last month. He should have recovered from the outing and is very much one to note today.
The vote though goes to FARMIX for Liz Doyle. The Clonmel maiden hurdle winner landed a Novice Chase at Fairyhouse (2m, heavy; 7-2f) in November after nine months off and while he tailed off at Naas last month (28-1 chance) that came behind the likes of Grade 1 winner Energumene and Captain Guinness - so this represents a far more manageable task. Jack Kennedy takes over here and there's more mileage in him on ground that won't faze him.
4.30 - Punchestown Grand National Trial Handicap Chase (Grade B, 3m4f)
The traditional Grand National Trial and, as has become tradition, Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown are mob-handed. The maroon and white silks account for a possible seven runners (one reserve) with five of those amongst the six (one reserve) that Elliott has enlisted for this contest.
Backing the Elliott team is tough here. His array of Gigginstown runners were all pulled up on their most recent starts, while Out Sam hasn't won since 2018 and has come a cropper in two of four starts this season.
A revival for one the Elliot mob wouldn't be a shock but the betting might be the safest place to look for clues as to which source it's coming from.
Henry De Bromhead meanwhile saddles Nick Lost in the Gigginstown colours. He returned from a long absence with a fine third at Thurles (2m5½f, soft to heavy) recently, doing his best work late on for Rachel Blackmore. He's worth a try over this marathon distance and has time on his side.
The other two that stand out are Screaming Colours - in excellent tune at this course in three runs this season - and The Big Dog, unexposed and with more to come for Peter Fahey and the excellent Jamie Codd.
Conor Orr and SCREAMING COLOURS finished second-best in the Amateur National here last month under a patient ride from the talented claimer. They had plenty ground to make up at the second last but stayed on strongly and were within a length of the winner (and favourite) at the line. There may be more to come at this distance from a lightly-raced 10-year-old with plenty going for him on this season's form.
5.00 - Happy Valentine's Day (Pro/Am) Flat Race (2m½f)
Tucson Train improved on third start in bumpers when second-best behind Ramillies as a 33-1 hope at Leopardstown's Christmas Festival. He can have place claims once more with a replication of that.
The remainder of those that have run aren't setting the bar high and so it won't be a shock if the market is hijacked by newcomers Starman (Willie Mullins) and MYLESTOWN UPPER (Gordon Elliott).
The former is a half-brother to Laurina and could be quite useful but Jamie Codd's mount cost ?82,000 and also has plenty going for him on paper, so perhaps they can pick up the finale.