Follow the star at Punchestown
Our Ben Coley provides a horse-by-horse guide to Sunday's John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown.
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A winner of all bar one of his completed starts but a faller on three occasions. Typically a bold-jumping front-runner but looks a shade shy of top-class despite his victory in Grade One company last season. Proved his wellbeing with a facile handicap hurdle success at Fairyhouse last time but despite conditions looking ideal he looks set for a minor role.
Victorious six times on the spin since suffering defeat to Bog Warrior when the pair made their respective debuts over fences. Hugely impressive in beating Big Zeb in the Fortria Chase on his return and this former point winner should improve again for a return to two and a half miles. Versatile with regards tactics and conditions, match fit and the top-rated horse in the race, so very much the one to beat.
Progressed from relatively humble beginnings to establish himself as a force at this level, as was demonstrated when he won this race 12 months ago. Subsequent defeats at Cheltenham and Punchestown expose him as slightly below the very top level, although on neither occasion did he have his ideal conditions. He gets them here but this is a stronger renewal and with the prospect of a soft lead unlikely, he's going to need the market principles to under-perform.
SIR DES CHAMPS
Seven-from-seven since joining Willie Mullins but arguably fortunate at Punchestown when last seen, when a big mistake at the last looked like it may cost him the race. Prior to that had looked a star in the making in winning the Jewson Novices' Chase and remains shorter than Flemenstar in the Gold Cup betting. No reason why he can't progress to take a hand come March but over this trip on ground more testing than ideal he's going to have to put in a flawless performance to win on his seasonal return unless the favourite fails to fire.
Despite the small field this is a fascinating contest between two of Ireland's big Gold Cup hopes.
Time may show that Sir Des Champs deserves to be shorter in the betting for the Cheltenham showpiece but FLEMENSTAR looks the one to beat here and rates a fine bet at evens or bigger.
Peter Casey's horse has ideal conditions, is perhaps more versatile than his main rival and, crucially, has a run under his belt.
Sir Des Champs is probably better off a strong gallop, particularly over this distance, and may have to settle for second in a race that simply suits Flemenstar better on paper.
Last year's winner Rubi Light may bounce back to his best under optimum conditions but that shouldn't be enough to see him stage a repeat while Bog Warrior needs to find improvement from somewhere.