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2.10 - Quevega Mares Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m4f)
Another small field for the latest renewal of the Quevega Mares Hurdle and it shapes up into a battle between Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott for supremacy. The former triumphed last year with Elfile, maintaining his perfect strike-rate since this race was added to the calendar in 2017.
Great White Shark represents Closutton this time. She finished an honourable third in the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham last March and shone afterwards in showing her versatility. She landed a big pot in a Galway handicap hurdle in July (2m7f, soft) and then justified favouritism to win Newmarket's Cesarewitch (2m2f, soft) in the autumn.
She did though run a poor race in her comeback last month in the Grade 2 John Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park over three-miles on heavy going, again as favourite. This is less challenging but she found little under pressure on the holding ground 27 days ago and needs to bounce back quickly.
BLACK TEARS can break the Mullins monopoly on this Grade 3. The Elliott mare routinely does her best stuff in the springtime and was second behind Elfile in this contest 12 months ago.
She, too, headed for Cheltenham afterwards and ran a stormer to be second in the Coral Cup. In her most recent start she was third behind Mares' Hurdle favourite Concertista at Leopardstown over Christmas and this looks a good spot for her to enhance her record over hurdles by recording a third February success.
Joseph O'Brien's pair Global Equity and Lunar Display complete the quartet. They finished second and third respectively in the Listed Apple's Jade Mares Novice Hurdle (2m5f, heavy) at Navan on Sunday and will have to raise their games considerably to get the better of this more experienced pair in what is a sharp turnaround.
2.45 - I.N.H. Stallion Owners EBF Maiden Hurdle (2m4f)
It could be a feature of the afternoon at Punchestown but, once more, Messrs Mullins and Elliott can be to the fore in this maiden. The champion trainer was utterly dominant at the recent Dublin Racing Festival and his advantage over Elliott is such that another championship win already looks assured. That said, the Cullentra team will aiming for a big spring and are recently starting to go through the gears with that aim in mind.
The standard of those to have run is set by Cavallino for Mullins and Paul Townend. He ran a fair race in a bumper here in the autumn before improving on hurdles bow at Tramore (2m, heavy) in December. Indeed, he might well have obliged that afternoon bar a very poor jump at the last that saw him held in third spot. He got through the heavy ground with no issues and should be in the firing line again.
He was beaten in the end by Elliott's Ennemi Public and that maiden hasn't worked out to be the strongest in truth. On that basis, the Jack Kennedy-ridden newcomer WALL OF FAME is selected to make a perfect start under rules today.
He twice ran well in point-to-points back in the autumn, contests that have already proved reliable in terms of those to have run under rules, and the Fame And Glory gelding was snapped up for ?62,000 subsequently. He's a half-brother to three winners and looks to have been found a good starting point, with his trainer now finding form.
Il Courra and Living's Boy An Co are more exposed but come into this on the back of runner-up finishes at Naas and Fairyhouse recently, so they are on the shortlist, while Journey West is another newcomer worth keeping tabs on for trainer Colm McBratney.
3.20 - Punchestown Festival Of A Different Colour Maiden Hurdle (2m)
MICRO MANAGE was Group 3-placed on the level last summer for Willie Mullins, attaining a three-figure rating in the process as he locked horns with the likes of Delphi and Search For A Song at the Curragh.
He went off even-money favourite in the hands of Patrick Mullins for a St Stephen's Day maiden on his hurdling introduction in December but was ultimately too keen in making the running given how he freely he raced. He was something of a sitting duck as Get My Drift and Gee Rex came by to battle it out and leave him settling for third spot.
The hood goes on now in attempts to help him settle and, even without the headgear that previous experience should stand to him. He's certainly good enough to be winning a race of this nature and is hard to oppose with the champion jockey taking over today.
Pont Du Gard shaped well in a juvenile hurdle at Compiegne for Guillaume Macaire in November 2019 when last spotted and was snapped up by JP McManus afterwards. He makes his first start for Joseph O'Brien now and needs close monitoring.
Mahons Glory has some positive hurdles form but was poor four weeks ago in a bumper at Thurles and so perhaps the place contenders could include We'll Go Again, three times a winner on the Flat, including over 1m1f (soft) on debut for these connections back in September. Kevin Brouder's mount was poor when last spotted in that sphere and has stamina to prove, but could shape well at a decent price.
3.55 - Pertemps Network Group Handicap Hurdle (Qualifier, 3m)
A Pertemps qualifier routinely presents a tough challenge for punters to assess and this certainly does not disappoint.
Milliner was back from a long absence with a good showing at Navan (2m4f, heavy) recently and could build on that back up in distance for Henry De Bromhead and Rachel Blackmore, he needs monitoring.
Things have been going along nicely for Atlantic Shore this season since he was sent over fences, Philip Fenton's charge could well be a lenient mark if able to transfer that promise across for what is his first start in a handicap over timber.
Rhinestone and Lynwood Gold also venture into handicapping for the first time, while Wingin A Prayer could bounce back from a poor run last time and is a heavy-ground course winner.
Some Neck won a Cross Country race at Cheltenham in December for John McConnell and is noted here on handicap hurdle bow with his rider taking off a handy 7lb but preference goes to GABBYS CROSS, the second De Bromhead representative.
He won a heavy-ground novice contest over 2m4f here in December and went off favourite on handicap bow at Leopardstown over Christmas subsequently. He travelled quite eye-catchingly into that race but didn't find as much as Rachel Blackmore could have hoped.
It's still early days for him and he's taking on seasoned rivals, but he's interesting upped to this new trip from a mark of 121 and won't be done any harm having Hugh Morgan claiming 5lb off his back.
4.25 - Moate Field Mares Maiden Hurdle (2m6f)
HUMBLE GLORY has finished second in both starts thus far over timber at Tramore and here, either side of landing a heavy-ground bumper at this venue on New Year's Eve.
Last month, Gordon Elliott's charge pushed long odds-on favourite Lady Breffni quite hard over 2m4f here, doing well on the run-in despite having fiddled her way over the final flight. The winner has since run well in a handicap off 128 and, given this increased trips looks another positive, it shouldn't be a major shock if Jack Kennedy's mare is off the mark at the third time of asking over sticks.
Things didn't go to plan for The Getaway Star on her handicap bow at Leopardstown earlier in the month over 2m2f but this step back up in trip should be a positive for her and she needs major respecting back in maiden company give her three previous efforts over timber were all encouraging.
Point-to-point winner Emily Roebling outran a massive price on her hurdles bow at Cork (3m, soft to heavy) early in January and that form looks reliable enough. She's certainly entitled to have designs on something similar now.
4.55 - Punchestown Handicap Hurdle (2m4f)
Hilltop Supreme was a winner on penultimate start at Fairyhouse in January, with the likes of Royal Rhythm behind, and may have a say again from 5lb higher after being brought down early on chasing at Down Royal since.
Chelseas Friend has yet to shine under rules but did win a point-to-point in November and the lightly-raced mare retains the services of Rachel Blackmore this afternoon, they can't be written off from a low rating.
Handicap debutante Keenaghan Lass was a winner last time in a point-to-point and commands a look, as do Junior Rattler and Clonbury Bridge - both geldings joining her in first ventures into handicapping.
GREY HABIT was third last time at Fairyhouse (2m7f, heavy) and might have been closer to the front pair bar a mistake at the final flight. The runner-up scored in miraculous fashion over fences on Sunday in the hands of an inspired Hugh Morgan and, despite being the veteran of the party, the mare doesn't have major miles on the clock and should give a good account of herself again over a trip at which she recorded her hurdles win last year on heavy ground.
5.25 - Blackhills Flat Race (2m)
A rare bumper where Willie Mullins is without a runner. Patrick Mullins therefore is noted taking the mount on Wild Hunt for Denis Hogan. The leading amateur was on board at Naas recently for a fair debut and there should be improvement forthcoming.
Stablemate Modreeney also has the benefit of a run but must improve, while Gowran Park runner-up Noble Birth has claims of being involved despite being fairly readily dispatched by the winner last month.
No major shocks if this goes the way of a newcomer. Itwasfate represents Henry De Bromhead and has claims while Joseph O'Brien runs Hasty Brook but Gordon Elliott is double-handed with Happy Victory (Lisa O'Neill) and MIGHTY POTTER (Jamie Codd) in the colours of owners Andrew & Gemma Brown.
The betting should reveal the pecking order but the last-named is related to some useful types and may be up to continuing a good spell for trainer and jockey on what could prove a fruitful afternoon for Team Elliott.