Fly to set the record straight
Man On The Spot previews Friday's card at Punchestown and fancies Hurricane Fly to overcome Jezki in the feature.
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Peter Maher saddled Johnies Star and Enniskillen to finish first and third in this race 12 months ago. The latter is 5lb better off for just over six lengths and should get closer, though was beaten more than 30 lengths in a hunter chase here on Tuesday. His trainer also runs MTADA SUPREME and it's the latter who gets the nod this time as he beat a useful sort in James at Down Royal in March having earlier got the better of subsequent Monksgrange winner Hasty Times on the point-to-point course here in February. The Baler won this in 2011 as a five-year-old but hasn't progressed as expected, though Katie Walsh is an eye-catching jockey booking today. Rohan's Pride won easily at Lisronagh last month and looks the pick of the remainder.
There are some progressive young chasers in this and the form should be worth following. The Way We Were, Shamiran and Playtime Ben must all carry more than their allotted weight but UK raiders The Romford Pele and Ballinvarrig have just sneaked into the handicap and are worth considering. Nicky Henderson has sent over Ericht but he has something to prove having never looked like convincing last time at Cheltenham. Paul Carberry has chosen Mullaghanoe River over Noel Meade's other runner Road To Riches and a clear round could see him in the firing-line, though he was no match for SIZING GOLD at Navan in December. Henry De Bromhead's charge has been set some stiff tasks since and has a chance to get back in the winning groove today. Balnaslow has also been competing at a high level and has to be feared but the handicapper has slaughtered Some Tikket for his win at Fairyhouse and Leavethelighton is no certainty to conform Gowran running with Followmeuptocarlow.
A few of these are returning from a break - notably Katys Girl, She's Got Grit and The Lady Granuaile - while the bottom four are also racing from out of the handicap proper thanks to the inclusion of the Henderson trio. Une Artiste beat Nadiya De La Vega and Burn And Turn in a Grade 3 at Fairyhouse 11 days ago but was all out to do so and the placed mares are both better off at the weights today. It's significant that Barry Geraghty prefers UTOPIE DES BORDES, who won four times over fences in France including a Grade 1. She led until after the last over hurdles in a Grade 3 at Aintree last month and should take all the beating here if anywhere near her best. Backinthere is fancied to reverse Thurles running with Lisrose and could sneak into a place back over fences with Paul Townend doing the steering.
It's unfortunate that only two rivals line-up in an attempt to prevent HURRICANE FLY recording a fifth straight victory in this Grade 1, though one of them is Cheltenham Champion Hurdle winner Jezki. Willie Mullins' star hurdler only finished fourth at Cheltenham, beaten five lengths, but had beaten Jessica Harrington's six-year-old in the Ryanair Hurdle and the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown earlier and is fancied to come out on top today with recent rain having got into the ground. Steps To Freedom is no mug but hasn't won over hurdles since 2011 and is probably in this to ensure a decent gallop.
VAUTOUR could not have been more impressive in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham, making nearly all the running and pulling clear after the last to beat Josses Hill by six lengths. The runner-up went one better in a Grade 2 at Aintree last month and it's difficult to see anything lowering the colours of the Mullins' gelding here as the extra half-mile won't be a problem on breeding. He beat the useful Lieutenant Colonel by more than five lengths at Navan in December and his trainer should also know where he stands with that one on a line through the equally-classy Faugheen. Lac Fontana won a Grade 1 at Aintree but was less than three lengths ahead of Wilde Blue Yonder, who was more than eight lengths behind the selection at Cheltenham. Apache Stronghold is held by Lieutenant Colonel on Fairyhouse running while this is a huge step up in class for Limerick maiden winner Noble Emperor.
ARCTIC FIRE ran well in Grade 1 contests at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown in December and was just touched off by subsequent Aintree winner Lac Fontana in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham when conceding a couple of pounds. That's very decent form and he should be another for Willie Mullins. Double Irish was third in a Grade 2 at Fairyhouse last month but still beaten 18 lengths and meets the selection on level terms, as does the unexposed Sizing Coldeco who has a bit to find on his recent third in a Listed contest at Naas. Handicappers Somethingwonderful and Gassin Golf are likely to come up short again but Rock The World could be thereabouts if recapturing his best form and The Plan Man left his debut run behind at Cork last month. Indian File may also do better back over 2m.
Willie Mullins has five entered, though two of them occupy a reserve spot. Patrick rides Morning Run, a sister to winning bumper and hurdler Morning Royalty, and the King's Theatre mare is preferred to stablemate On The Bike, second at Thurles in March. QUEEN ALPHABET won at Roscommon last August and wasn't disgraced under a penalty at Tipperary subsequently. Jane Mangan's mount was fifth in a Listed race at Aintree last month after a break and probably has the best form in this. Winning pointer Carrigmoorna Rock scrambled home over a longer trip at Wexford in March and is on the upgrade but Degenerous has more to do than when winning at Catterick. Barossa Pearl caught the eye at Fairyhouse last month and is open to more improvement than most.
Warne was given a terrific ride by Sam Waley-Cohen to win the Fox Hunters' Chase at Aintree last month but does give the impression he is slightly better over shorter trips than this. Vital Plot has been in fine form between the flags and is no slough under Rules while Ferris Bueller went close at Cork last month, though favourite Mossey Joe didn't reproduce his best form. Quel Esprit would have a chance on his old form but was a long way behind surprise winner Hix Fix and Fence Me In at Fairyhouse last time. ON THE FRINGE is the class act and should return to winning ways. He had Warne four lengths away when runner-up to Tammy's Hill at Leopardstown and there was no disgrace in a subsequent third behind the same horse at Cheltenham.