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IS TUESDAY'S Champion Hurdle really such a below-par renewal? There were plenty willing to say that on the back of Faugheen’s enforced withdrawal.
Willie Mullins still fields three of the 14 runners, including Annie Power and Nichols Canyon, while Henry de Bromhead’s Fighting Fifth winner Identity Thief makes up the Irish-trained contingent at the head of the market. None of them would match any of the last half-dozen winners of the first day feature but that might not matter on Tuesday.
Annie Power’s 7lb allowance is a major asset. The mare is a course winner, on New Year’s Day in 2014, but her performances at the Festival will live longer in the memory. On start number 11 she lost her unbeaten record when second to More Of That in a memorable renewal of the World Hurdle two years back, before she unforgettably fell at the last with the Mares’ Hurdle at her mercy last term.
In general she has made her name at distances further than two miles.
Nichols Canyon has won six Grade Ones, including three over this trip, and he is taken to again get the better of Identity Thief, as he did at Leopardstown over Christmas. But Annie Power can reward her trainer’s faith and provide compensation for last year’s disaster.
Mullins has taken the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle for the last three years with Douvan, Vautour and Champagne Fever, all partnered by Ruby Walsh in the Ricci colours. Min has the same passport and almost the same credentials. He last ran 66 days ago when winning his second Irish start at Punchestown. The last 10 winners of this all ran within the previous 59 days. Only a week of a difference but a change in the trends.
The ground might be the liveliest he has experienced and he certainly gives the that he’s a free-runner but he oozes class and his reputation has been justified. Supasundae beat Super Concorde by 13 lengths at Leopardstown at Christmas but better ground could see the Dermot Weld runner turn that form around.
Gordon Elliott’s Tombstone is another who could outrun his odds but Min can prove his magnificence. Douvan is the banker in the Arkle. He’s as good a novice as we have seen this season and the trainer’s confidence is high.
There’s no sign of any vulnerability and he has won Grade One chases on his last two starts by 18 lengths and then 15 lengths. With The Game Changer and Sizing John looking a bit out of their depth it might be left to Nicky Henderson’s Vaniteux to follow Douvan home.
There’s a Mullins banker too in the Mares’ Hurdle in the shape of Vroun Vroum Mag. Unbeaten in all of her Irish starts, the seven-year-old added an Ascot trimph to her CV in January and hasn’t been seen since. This will be the strongest test she’s ever faced but she’s still far too good for the rest.
The three-mile-one-furlong handicap chase hasn’t seen an Irish-trained winner since Dun Doire completed a six-timer over fences for Tony Martin 10 years ago. He had a rating of 129. The de Bromhead-trained Shanahan’s Turn is rated 153, while the other Irish challenger of note is Morning Assembly on 150.
It’s not a great punting race but Doing Fine and Spring Heeled are a possible pair. The four-mile National Hunt Chase went to Jonjo O’Neil on no less than five occasions between 1995 and 2007 and he may get back on track this year with Minella Rocco, ridden by Derek O’Connor.
Pont Alexandre seems to be best of the Mullins runners but you’d have to respect the likes of Ballychorus and Vicente. The 20-runner novice handicap chase is another difficult contest but there are a couple of Irish runners with chances including Bridgets Pet, Domesday Book and Mckinley.
But the last time we won it was with Tom Taaffe’s Finger Onthe Pulse some eight years ago.
1.30pm: Min (Nap) (Next Best: Silver Concorde)
2.10pm: Douvan (Vaniteux)
2.50pm: Doing Fine (Spring Heeled)
3.30pm: Annie Power (Nichols Canyon)
4.10pm: Vroum Vroum Mag (Polly Peachum)
4.50pm: Pont Alexandre (Dbl) (Minella Rocco)
5.30pm: Bridgets Pet (Domesday Book)