The first running of the Punchestown Champion Hurdle may have only taken place in 1999, but a lookback through the winners ignites some magnificent memories of some magnificent horses – and I’m not even talking through my pocket.
The inaugural running was won by the brilliant Istabraq, whilst Hardy Eustace, Brave Inca and Macs Joy were all part of a brilliant few years for Irish hurdlers. Punjabi managed to get one on the board for England in 2008, but the last 7 renewals all stayed on Irish soil thanks to Solwhit, four-time champion Hurricane Fly, Jezki and Faugheen.
Unsurprisingly, Willie Mullins is the top trainer with 6 wins, whilst Nicky Henderson bids to notch his second win in the race. Meanwhile, Ruby Walsh has ridden 4 of the last 5 winners. 7-year-olds have the best record having won 8 of the 17 renewals.
Only 6 runners are set to go to post, but it’s still a fascinating little renewal.
Fethard Player 33/1
Despite being 9, he’s been on an upward curve over the last 18 months with 2 wins and four second-places in 7 runs. However, his one poor run in that time was here. His wins were also only off marks of 121 and 137 and, despite a decent second at the Cheltenham Festival off 145, he shouldn’t be good enough unless the three principles all have off days.
Identity Thief 4/1
Started the season with two wins and was being touted as a Champion Hurdle contender, but could only manage sixth in the big race, 15-lengths behind My Tent Or Yours. Hasn’t run since Cheltenham so could be fresher than that opponent here, but the stable form is a bit of a worry.
My Tent Or Yours 15/8
Not many horses have managed to run well here this week who have run at both Cheltenham and Aintree but, as they were his only two runs of the season, he could still have something in the tank. Bigger worries though are his tendency to flatten out when he comes off the bridle, especially on an uphill finish, and his stable could be in better form.
Sempre Medici 14/1
Won twice at odds-on this season, but plenty of ground to make up on form judging on his run in the Champion Hurdle, and also his 12-length second to Nicholls Canyon at this meeting last year.
Ted Veale 50/1
Has ran over fences this week already, and also preferred fences at the 2014 and 2015 Punchestown Festivals. Did run 16-lengths second to Jezki here in 2013, but hard to make a case for him finding the necessary improvement.
Vroum Vroum Mag 15/8
7-year-old who gets the 7lb mares’ allowance, and if she’s as good as Annie Power then she’ll probably win. However, has done most of her winning at longer distances and on softer ground.
This should fall to either Vroum Vroum Mag, My Tent Or Your or Identity Thief, and Vroum Vroum Mag is preferred. She may not be as good as Annie Power, but she had a pretty easy race at Cheltenham, and should be fresher than My Tent Or Yours, whilst neither the Henderson or De Bromhead yards are particularly in form. Her 7lb allowance will also be very handy.