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12.35 - Fundraiser For Children's Health Foundation Crumlin In Memory Of Pat Smullen Rated Novice Hurdle (2m½f)
Five runners for this opening contest over flights and each has their merits in what shapes up as a tight betting heat. They're all winners already over jumps, though on form at least, perhaps Rachel Blackmore's mount Ruaille Buaille - the apparent second string of Willie Mullins - is the one with most to find on paper as the mare takes on the boys here.
The remaining quartet are tough to split.
Gavin Cromwell's Railway Hurricane arrives here on the back of a personal best at Tipperary (2m, soft to heavy) in October, his second win from four over hurdles and he'll have a very useful 5lb claimed by Conor McNamara here.
The second Mullins contender is Power Of Pause, a point-to-point winner that left his bumper woes behind when scoring on hurdles bow at Clonmel (2m3½f, heavy) last month. He needs a bit more in this company but may progress again.
Jessica Harrington's Crosshill landed a maiden over 2m4½f at this track six weeks ago, form boosted by the runner-up winning next time out, and will have claims too under Robbie Power but it is SNEAKY GETAWAY that earns the vote.
As with Crosshill and Power Of Pause, his winning hurdles form has come at 2m4f/2m5f as he scored at Roscommon in June and again last month at Fairyhouse, proving effective on good/soft ground. He achieved a three-figure rating on the Flat too and has the class to cope with this drop back in distance given the way he goes about his racing. He can maintain his perfect record over timber for his handler Brian Hayes, upsetting some of the powerhouse Irish trainers in the opener.
1.10 - Voler La Vedette Mares Novice Hurdle (Listed, 2m4f)
She was narrowly beaten in a bumper at Exeter on debut last year but FINEST EVERMORE has been nothing but impressive since moving to Willie Mullins' team and she has standout claims of tasting Listed success now.
She readily won a Cork bumper in July on debut for Ireland's champion trainer and has achieved wide-margin hurdles successes at Tipperary and Listowel (both 2m4f, soft) since then. Her latest success in September has some substance to it and she was much too strong for the opposition that day. The daughter of Yeats is hard to oppose with David Mullins likely delighted to be deputising for Cork-bound champion jockey Paul Townend.
Henry De Bromhead landed this event a year ago with Minella Melody and he's got solid place claims now with Boher Cailin, a good winner of a Mares Maiden Hurdle at Clonmel on her rules bow 38 days ago, while she also won her only point-to-point start.
Skyace was a 66/1 winner of a Grade 3 at Down Royal last time out, though Shark Hanlon's Westerner mare is duly penalised for that now, while Global Equity should give a good account back up in distance.
1.40 - John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase (Grade 1, 2m4f)
If Saturday's Tingle Creek was robbed of some its lustre when Altior defected, it surely meant that the John Durkan assumed the role of being the most eagerly anticipated contest of an intriguing weekend's racing. The dead-eight runners are set to lock horns in what is a fascinating contest on paper, with established performers and exciting second-season chasers drawing swords in a race not to be missed.
Min is the forecast favourite as he attempts to win this Grade 1 for the third year running. He'll be ridden today for the first time by Patrick Mullins, with Paul Townend sent to Cork to partner Chacun Pour Soi. His record at this intermediate trip is second to none, rubberstamped in March by his Ryanair success in Cheltenham. He's the standard to aim at for sure but this looks a deeper renewal than the races he landed here in 2018/2019.
His stablemate Melon was agonisingly foiled on the line by Samcro in the Marsh Novices' Chase at Cheltenham in March (with Tornado Flyer well behind in fifth). Melon took well to fences last term but it's tough to forecast him being Grade 1 level in open company.
Samcro meanwhile was put in his place by stablemate Battleoverdoyen in a Grade 2 at Down Royal in October on their returns to action. Interesting to see if the winner can establish himself this season, but certainly no case yet to dismiss Jack Kennedy's mount and they give Gordon Elliott a really good hand to play.
Chris's Dream looked set to win the Champion Chase at Down Royal over three-miles on that same card, only to be mugged by The Storyteller. He's got no fears down in trip but there was a feeling that presented him with an ideal scenario to snare a Grade 1 win and this is such a hot race that, perhaps, he's missed the boat for now.
It's 673 days since we spotted Le Richebourg on the track, by which point he was the red-hot favourite to win the 2019 Arkle following successive Grade 1 novice wins at Leopardstown (2m1f). There's time yet for him, but this would be as notable as any training feat achieved by Joseph O'Brien in an already remarkable fledgeling career if he can be prepared to return from a major layoff to land this contest.
Which all leaves us with ALLAHO as the John Durkan Memorial Chase selection.
He was defeated by reliable stablemate Easy Game last Christmas on his chasing introduction at Leopardstown (2m5f, soft) before the Cheveley Park Stud runner romped to a beginners' success at Fairyhouse in January.
From there he went straight to the RSA Chase, sent off the 5/2fav, where he was pipped by Champ and Minella Indo in a most remarkable scrap up the Cheltenham hill, the winner rallying from a different parish altogether to grab the prize.
Henry De Bromhead's runner-up has strongly advertised that form in his two wins this term and is already a single-figure price for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, while the aforementioned Battleoverdoyen was way back in fifth that afternoon.
It looks to have been a vintage RSA and Allaho perhaps just didn't entirely relish the full three-miles up that long home straight. He could be ideally suited by this sort of distance and can illustrate that by lowering the colours of stablemate Min. Presumably, David Mullins had a say in which of the four Closutton runners he'd partner in this race, which is another positive, if so.
2.10 - Gift A Punchestown Voucher This Christmas Handicap Hurdle (2m4f)
As tough a puzzle as the previous race, albeit for different reasons. THE GREAT WHITE lurks down the foot of the weights for trainer Dermot McLaughlin and looks to have the tools to take advantage of a mark of 98 before long. He was a 3m point-to-point scorer earlier this year and has improved his hurdles form since switching to handicaps.
He caught the eye at Navan in September over 2m6f on good ground and again last month at Fairyhouse (2m, soft to heavy) when staying on to be fourth. He's running in better company now and should get a more even pace to aim at. Combined with the increased trip, that is expected to give him a solid platform on which to build a challenge.
R'evelyn Pleasure has done well from higher marks as a chaser and isn't without a chance following an encouraging hurdles run at Thurles (2m4f, soft) last month when he finished third. That was his best effort since he finished fourth over a similar trip here on New Year's Eve. He runs from an unchanged mark now and has first-time cheekpieces fitted to assist him. He has an each-way shout.
2.40 - GAIN Supporting Laois GAA Beginners Chase (2m)
Captain Guinness was putting together a big performance in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March when he was brought down late in the race. He clearly has plenty of ability on that evidence and his chasing debut at Tipperary (2m1f, soft to heavy) in October is best forgotten.
Something was surely ailing him there as he never looked like justifying odds-on favouritism and the race was quickly aborted by Rachel Blackmore. It wouldn't be a shock if he leaves that well behind now.
The Priests Leap is hooded for the first time on his chasing bow and one to take note of for Arthur Moore, while the same goes for Jessica Harrington's Jungle Junction.
Midnight Run should build on his first taste of jumping fences here three weeks ago and may go well for Joseph O'Brien. In the same Gigginstown silks, IFICUDIWUD is given a chance for Noel Meade.
He made plenty of the running and his share of mistakes at Limerick (2m6f, soft) on his first experience over fences in October. That race has thrown up three next-time-out winners and the drop in distance should aid him here. His trainer will have worked on the jumping side in the interim and he gets on well with Eoin Walsh, his rider taking off a handy 5lb for this assignment.
3.10 - Visit irishracingyearbook.com For The Perfect Racing Gift Handicap Chase (3m1½f)
Arverne found only one too strong over a similar trip here in October on his seasonal return having been sent off favourite. Gavin Cromwell's charge should be on the premises again with new headgear added and Mark Walsh staying on board.
The likes of Getaday and Highest Benefit go up in distance and could have a say while Riviera Sun has winning form at this sort of trip and cannot be ruled out as such, despite a patchy profile overall.
The aforementioned Getaday was some 11-lengths behind ATLANTIC SHORE in a Wexford Beginners' Chase (2m4f, soft to heavy) in late October. Philip Fenton's charge has since tackled a tough assignment at Gowran Park behind the likes of Annamix and Spyglass Hill and he now makes his first foray into handicaps from what might be a workable mark of 124.
His hurdles form tells us he'll have no concerns at the increased distance and his burden here is further eased by the 7lb claim of his rider. He's got more going for him than most.
3.40 - Old House, Kill (Pro/Am) Flat Race (2m½f)
Precious little form to call on here with the majority seeing a racecourse proper for the first time. The market, therefore, will be informative. No major shock in that scenario if Aslukwoodhavit and Champagne Sparkles are to the fore, representing the champion trainer Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott, who won this last year, respectively. Joseph O'Brien's Fama Et Gloria is another with plenty of promise on paper but a tentative vote is handed to SUPREME JET.
He was a cosy winner of a point-to-point in February, his sole start between the flags, and might give the big yards something to think about on his rules bow having since joined Oliver McKiernan.
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