The remarkable Quevega will be bidding to land the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle for the fourth consecutive year at Punchestown on Thursday and, having won the mares’ hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival for the fifth season running last month, you’d have to have a good reason to bet against her. On this occasion there is good reason: SOLWHIT.
In a way, he is pretty remarkable, too. Charles Byrnes’ stable star was off for the thick end of two years prior to chasing home Bog Warrior at this track on New Year’s Eve, and he’s looked better than ever in three subsequent starts, winning the World Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree’s Grand National meeting the last twice.
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For Solwhit to return from such a lengthy, injury-induced spell on the side-lines in such great nick speaks volumes about the capabilities of his trainer. And, moreover, it’s indicative of the tremendous attitude of this nine-year-old who is one of the most straightforward, likeable horses you could wish for. He’s the consummate professional.
Quevega did mighty well to win the OLBG.com Mares’ Hurdle last month after being hampered on the home turn. Indeed, she was still in fifth place approaching the last, yet displayed courage aplenty, not to mention a potent turn of foot, to retain her title in that Grade 2 event. She won’t go down without a fight, but in Solwhit she faces a rival at the top of his game.
The Ryanair Novice Chase looks very competitive, and it’s likely that a break-neck pace will ensue, with no shortage of front-runners/prominently-ridden types set to go to post. One of those is Avrika Ligeonniere who has failed to complete in his last two starts, but looked good when bagging a brace of Grade 1 contests in December.
Willie Mullins’ charge will be a big player if putting his best foot forward here, but BENEFFICIENT has taken sizeable steps forward the last twice, particularly at the Cheltenham Festival where, sporting a first-time hood, he readily saw off subsequent Aintree winner Dynaste in the Jewson Novices’ Chase.
The fact that he went off at 20/1 there suggests that his victory in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown on penultimate start was perceived as something of a fluke. Admittedly, that was a three-runner race in which just two finished, and Oscars Well, who re-opposes here, would certainly have finished closer but for a shocking blunder at the final fence.
Nevertheless, Tony Martin’s charge was going the better of the two at the time and, in my opinion, would have won anyway. However you look at it, the seven-year-old is an improved performer and his tactical versatility will stand him in good stead here.
Oscars Well has plenty to prove now, having subsequently finished a well-beaten fifth behind Real Mor in the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse. With regard to the latter, he jumped well and won with a bit left up his sleeve in that two-and-a-half mile event, but the steady early pace that day raises doubts as to the strength of the form, while the drop in trip here may not be ideal.
Consequently, the main danger could turn out to be Aintree scorer Special Tiara. Henry de Bromhead’s charge sprung a surprise at that Merseyside venue, landing the Maghull Novices’ Chase at odds of 28/1. But it would churlish to assume that it was a fluke and if he does at least reproduce that level of form here, he will be bang there at the finish.
The best bet of the day, however, is in the Bibby Financial Services Handicap Chase, the second race on the card. DARENJAN looked better than ever back from a five-month break at Thurles, landing a nine-runner handicap by eight lengths from Uncle Tom Cobley, who is set to renew rivalry here.
The 10-year-old looked better than ever on that occasion and I am at a loss to explain how he escaped with just a 6lb rise for that victory, and if he’s in the same form on Thursday he’ll take the world of beating.
4.50 Bostons Angel
6.05 Call Rog
7.15 Speckled Wood
7.45 Cailin Annamh