Supasundae beating Buveur D'Air at Aintree last month© Photo Healy Racing
The dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air, last year’s winner Supasundae and the brilliant mare Apple’s Jade head a stellar cast for the Grade 1 BETDAQ Punchestown Hurdle on Friday.
Gordon Elliott has yet to win this race but is hoping Apple’s Jade can bounce back to her best following a couple of recent defeats. The multiple Grade 1 heroine ran way below her best behind Espoir D’allen at Cheltenham but produced a much better effort next time when she lost out in a three-way finish to the Ryanair Stayers Hurdle at Aintree.
Elliott is hoping that she can get back to the form that saw her dominate BHP Insurance Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in early February.
“She’s been in very good form since Aintree and hopefully we will see her back to her best on Friday. We had a few options for her during the week but we’ve decided to come back to two miles and let’s hope that she turns up in the same form that she did at Leopardstown,” said the trainer.
“At Aintree Jack (Kennedy) said she just wasn’t the mare she was earlier in the season but she was only just beaten so we shouldn’t be too disappointed and she looks to be very well in herself now so hopefully she can end her season on a high but this looks a very strong race so she will have to be at her best,” added Elliott.
For the second time in as many runs Supasundae and Buveur D’Air clash and Jessica Harrington’s charge will be looking to confirm Aintree form with his Nicky Henderson-trained rival. The pair were separated by a length and a quarter when they clashed on Merseyside last month.
Willie Mullins has won seven of the last nine renewals of this race and he relies on the dual Champion Hurdle runner-up Melon and Wicklow Brave who recorded a memorable triumph in this race in 2017. The line-up is completed by the dual Grade 1 winner Petit Mouchoir and last season’s Supreme Novices Hurdle winner Summerville Boy.
Also on Friday Martin Brassil’s stable star City Island will look to bring the curtain down on a memorable season with victory in the Grade 1 Alanna Homes Champion Novice Hurdle. The Sean and Bernardine Mulryan-owned gelding, who is unbeaten on his last five starts, will be looking to follow in the footsteps of Istabraq, Nicanor and Mikael D’Haguenet who all won the Ballymore Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham before coming on to lift this prize.
"City Island has been doing everything we wanted him to do ahead of the Punchestown Festival," Brassil reported. "He is a very versatile horse ground wise so I wouldn't be worried about any ground for him.
"It's great to get back and have a decent horse where you can be competitive in those races. You have to savour all those moments."
City Island’s rivals include Colin Tizzard’s Aintree Grade 1 winner Reserve Tank, fellow top flight winner Battleoverdoyen and a five-strong challenge from Willie Mullins. The champion trainer’s team features the Cheltenham winner Eglantine Du Seuil, the highly promising Royal Rendezvous and Tornado Flyer, who won the Champion Bumper at last year’s Festival.
Meanwhile Mouse Morris runs the Grade 1-placed Sams Profile and Henry de Bromhead fields Dommage Pour Toi who makes his debut in the Gigginstown House Stud colours following his 33/1 success in a Grade 2 novice hurdle at Fairyhouse last month.
The feature race at Punchestown this afternoon is the Coral Punchestown Gold Cup where Al Boum Photo and Kemboy clash, while on Thursday the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle takes centre stage with Dan Skelton's Aux Ptits Soins taking on the Willie Mullins-trained Bapaume.