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A big field for the opening beginners’ chase at Punchestown where Willie Mullins should secure another victory in this race with ASTERION FORLONGE. The champion trainer won this contest last year with Faugheen and six times over the previous nine-seasons, including success with Champagne Fever, Valseur Lido and Outlander. The six-year-old grey of Coastal Path won an Oldtown point-to-point before developing into a nice hurdler for team Mullins, which included Grade 1 success at Leopardstown earlier this year.
He finished fourth behind Shishkin when sent off favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March and looks a bright prospect to watch over fences this season. His front running style within this big-field should alleviate any traffic issues or being brought-down and see him dominate from the front to get the better of School Boy Hours, Punitive and Conflated.
This race was always the plan for Gavin Cromwell and connections of DARVER STAR following his impressive debut success here in mid-October. The Champion Hurdle third couldn’t have made a better chasing debut, jumping for fun and winning by 12 lengths under jockey Keith Donoghue. Jonathan Moore returns to the saddle in what looks a match against the Gordon Elliott trained Felix Desjy.
It will be an interesting battle between two classy horses who do not have much better them on ratings over hurdles. The biggest pre-race concern for Cromwell and Moore will be a tactical one, considering the front running style of the Elliott runner. We know Darver Star stays further, so setting the right fractions but also making sure Felix Desjy doesn’t get an easy lead up front will make this an interesting race to watch and for Moore to ride in.
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History has told us that Willie Mullins targets this weekend at Punchestown to kick-start his season and he’s previously managed to win this maiden hurdle with nice horses, Zaidpour (2010), Burrows Saint (2017) and Blue Sari last year. GAILLARD DU MESNIL is a French import purchased for €250,000 and running in the colours of Gold Cup winning owners, the Donnelly family.
Despite never running over hurdles in France as a three-year-old, the son of Saint Des Saints was placed in four-bumpers and secured his only success in August last year (2019). Mullins knows the family well having trained Calie Du Mesnil, who won twice for the team over this middle-distance trip. Homme D’un Soir and Holymacapony look the main rivals here, while King’s Vow for Joseph O’Brien and newcomers, Caesar Rock and Valyblue should fight out the places.
LETSBECLEARABOUTIT went straight into my tracker when securing an impressive debut victory at Tipperary last month and it’s no surprise to see Patrick Mullins remain in the saddle for Gavin Cromwell. Slightly keen early, the son of Flemensfirth travelled easily turning for home to beat the well-fancied Enniskerry from the Barry Connell stable.
Mullins said his biggest problem was pulling him up afterwards, which suggest he’s got decent ability and class to see off his old-rival again despite the weight difference today. Elsewhere, Dark Spark looks the obvious danger having bolted up when winning a Kilbeggan bumper on debut for Gordon Elliott and Jamie Codd last month.
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