Three Grade 1 races feature on the opening day of the Punchestown Festival with Willie Mullins’ Cheltenham winner Faugheen ready to star in the first of the card’s top-level contests.
Here are our news team’s thoughts on the best of day one of Ireland’s biggest jumps meeting.
Having landed the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park, unbeaten Faugheen steps down in trip to tackle 2m in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle with Mullins confident the move will pay off.
Faugheen is an Evens shot to claim a sixth successive win under rules and will take on this latest assignment instead of stablemate and Supreme Novices’ winner Vautour who will tackle a longer trip.
Mullins told At the Races: “He is possibly good enough to come back to two miles because he can go a gallop and maybe he’d be better jumping over two miles.”
The Irish Champion Trainer also fields recent Fairyhouse victor Valseur Lido and Wicklow Brave, with the latter bidding for a return to the form that delivered success at this track in February.
Elsewhere, AP McCoy partners Sgt Reckless again having only finished behind Supreme runner-up Josses Hill at Aintree last time out.
Key stat: Nine of the last 10 winners finished in the first three of either a Grade 1 or 2 race on their last start over hurdles.
Our tip: Faugheen
Some might argue this year’s renewal lacks sparkle given that last year’s winner Sprinter Sacre and the recent Queen Mother king Sire de Grugy will both be absent.
But there’s still plenty to get excited about with this year’s Grand Annual victor Savello aiming to continue his progression and be a success at the highest level.
The likes of Sizing Europe and Somersby have the class to challenge once again but it’s Byrne Group Plate winner Ballynagour and Module
In-form jockey Barry Geraghty will mount the latter who looked smart enough when taking the Game Spirit at Newbury earlier in the year.
Expect the Tom George-trained seven-year-old to run another big race here.
Key stat: Eight of the last 10 winners have won a Grade 1 chase before.
Our tip: Ballynagour
Morning Assembly’s Punchestown form makes the son of Shantou difficult to back against having won on each of his previous four starts at the course.
The most recent of those victories came against the re-opposing Don Cossack in a Grade 2 affair with Cheltenham’s RSA-third last time outan encouraging performance from Philip Fahy’s charge.
Ballycasey was less impressive in the same race but has the ability to bounce back on this occasion while Ruby Walsh’s decision to opt for Djakadam could be significant when weighing up his chances.
Key stat: Seven-year-olds have won four of the previous seven renewals.
Our tip: Morning Assembly