It's Champagne's moment
Man On The Spot previews all of the action from the third day of the Punchestown Festival.
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Macnicholson carries a penalty for winning a maiden hurdle at Kilbeggan last Friday and has more on his plate here. Usa keeps finding one too good but Firefighter might be interesting having had a run on the Flat last month. Pivot Bridge and Green Energy arrive in form and are still at the right end of the handicap and the former had Wexford scorer Hurler And Farmer behind at Fairyhouse. On a line through Dessie Hughes' charge, that appears to give him the beating of The Conker Club. SIR HARRY CASH was far from disgraced off his new mark at Limerick in March and finished well ahead of Time Please. With Shane Shortall taking off 7lb today, he gets a tentative vote to resume winning ways.
This is hugely competitive but Savello's run in the Champion Chase on Wednesday points to the chances of Ned Buntline, who was second to the Gigginstown Stud gelding in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham when Tanks For That was unplaced and Competitive Edge and Passage Vendome both fell. Noel Meade's charge is weighted to reverse Naas running in January with Mallowney, though Golanbrook could trouble the pair on today's terms. Parsnip Pete won a Grade 3 at Aintree last month and can't be ignored but the unlucky Rupert Lamb and Mount Colah appear to have plenty of weight and Dick Dundee may find this an insufficient test of stamina. Toostrong will be better for his run at Limerick but was behind Dick Dundee at Wexford in the autumn. Better ground will suit SIZING MACHINE and, providing a fall at Fairyhouse hasn't dented confidence, Henry De Bromhead's six-year-old could go well in this at a working man's price.
Several old favourites tackle these cross-country fences again including 2012 winner Uncle Junior, though he didn't get far last year and his trainer also runs Bishopsfurze and Boxer Georg. Philip Hobbs and Enda Bolger both know what it takes to win races like this. The former saddles Duke Of Lucca, who won a Listed handicap over conventional obstacles at Aintree last month, and he has to go on the short-list. But Bolger has three with Keep On Track heading the weights and Nina Carberry partnering Quantitativeeasing, who won a Grade 3 in his younger days but never figured in the cross-country chase at Cheltenham last time in which Duke Of Lucca finished fourth, Uncle Junior seventh and Quiscover Fontaine ninth. JACKS ISLAND may have a bit to find at the weights but has form over these fences and has always looked as though he'd be suited by a step up in trip. He had a nice pipe-opener over timber last month and should give supporters a run for their money.
Quevega, chasing a fantastic five-timer in this Grade 1, has followed a familiar path. She made her customary reappearance in the Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham and kept on well to beat stable companion Glens Melody. Mourad will help set the pace in this and Willie Mullins' brilliant mare will make a bold bid to extend an unbeaten record that stretches back almost five years. But we're going to take her on this year with FINGAL BAY, who doesn't bear any scars from competing against the very best and may be approaching his prime. He was very highly regarded before injury interrupted his career and won the Pertemps Final under top weight at Cheltenham last month, which stamps him as potentially top-class. At Fishers Cross didn't manage a win last season, which was disappointing given his ability. He acts on good going but is better when the mud is flying, as is Reve De Sivola who was second in this last year. Bog Warrior won a Grade 2 over fences last time but is likely to struggle in this company back over the smaller obstacles.
INIS MEAIN is a classy sort and could be the answer to this tough-looking handicap having had the speed to win over 1m2f on the Flat since landing another competitive affair at Navan. Our Man Zebo chased home Lots Of Memories at Fairyhouse last month but Off The Charts and Some Officer weren't far behind. Limerick scorer Moonlight Boy steps up in trip but has won over 3m between the flags and less exposed than some. Subtle Ben also has plenty of scope while Bob Keown is proving consistent and makes more appeal than The Crafty Butcher and fellow UK raider Tullyesker Hill. Bothair Clei may be the best of these nearer the foot of the handicap.
Balder Succes has won five of his seven starts over the larger obstacles, including a Grade 1 at Aintree last time when Trifolium and Ted Veale were behind. He will be a threat to all here but we just prefer CHAMPAGNE FEVER. Willie Mullins' grey was a beaten favourite in the Champion Novice Hurdle at this meeting last year when finishing just behind Ted Veale but showed what he was capable of when just touched off by the rallying Western Warhorse in the Arkle at Cheltenham in March and should have too much pace for stablemate Felix Yonger, fourth in another Grade 1 over a longer trip at Cheltenham but beaten nine lengths by Trifolium at Leopardstown earlier. It's difficult to see any of the others getting involved, though Arnaud could complicate matters if he takes on the selection for the lead.
Urticaire was third in a Grade 1 at Fairyhouse last month but doesn't look an easy ride and his trainer saddles a viable alternative in VICKY DE L'OASIS. She hasn't been disgraced in her last four starts but there's a chance she'll return to her best on this quicker surface. The four-year-old Florishwells D'Ete also represents the champion trainer and has ability but Little King Robin was well behind Urticaire at Fairyhouse. Whisper Rock is improving but this is easily her toughest task to date and Market Rasen winner Western Diva also steps up in class. It took Good As Gold 15 starts to get off the mark over hurdles and she will surely be found out in this company.
Tell Us More easily won a pointers' flat race at Gowran in March but his future probably lies over hurdles and longer trips. His trainer also runs easy Downpatrick winner Most Peculiar and Klinnsman has been knocking on the door. Blinkers would need to improve Victoria Hill but Honkytonktennessee can build on his victory at Limerick and Voluptueux should be thereabouts if fully wound-up having run well over hurdles in the autumn after winning at Limerick. CHAMPOLEON only beat six rivals in a slowly-run race at Naas in January but showed a nice turn of foot and Noel Meade's grey can double his tally.