A field of eleven go to post for an intriguing handicap at Punchestown on Day 1 of the festival, see our betting tips and the full race preview below.
IN SUMMARY: Tudor City and Roconga both arrive in good form, but this can go to VEINARD who has been knocking on the door all season for Gordon Elliott. He looks likely to have been tailored for this race after coming home too late on a few occasions this season, including on his latest start when a close second behind Thomas Hobson in a Grade A handicap at Fairyhouse. He is down in grade for this and remains on the same mark, so with conditions to suit and Davy Russell taking over he can gain his second hurdling victory.
1 PIQUE SOUS – Inconsistent ten-year-old for Willie Mullins who has been campaigned mainly on the flat in recent years where he has not necessarily been disgraced at the top level, finishing third in a competitive race at Chelmsford last month. Back over hurdles for his latest start, he was readily brushed aside when only managing tenth in a Grade B handicap at Cork nine days ago and he will need much more if he’s to threaten in this. He has place claims on the best of his hurdling form – which includes a Grade 2 win – but that came way back in 2013 and he is likely not capable of that level at this stage in his career.
2 TUDOR CITY – Running consistently well this season for Tony Martin, this five-year-old has form figures of 2221 since returning to hurdles in November. His second at Leopardstown in a Grade B handicap on his penultimate start bodes well in the context of this race. He was perhaps fortunate on his latest start at Fairyhouse when his only rival fell at the last when challenging him, but he was still going well and there is no reason to suggest that he would not have won. He has been raised 4lb as a result, but he may well be capable of better yet as he looks progressive. With conditions to suit and the yard in good form at present, he looks booked to go close.
3 ROCONGA – Seven-year-old who is lightly raced over hurdles for Edward O’Grady; he’s only campaigned on the flat this season, though his best hurdling form brings him right into this. He won a Grade C handicap at Killarney back in August when last seen over timber which was a career best and he has improved on the flat since then, indicating that he is still progressive in both codes. He has been raised 3lb for that latest win, but he has also improved 12lb on the flat since, so he is likely to still be dangerous off a mark of 129 over timber. He has conditions to suit and all signs point to a big run.
4 WESTERN BOY – Very hard to assess at present, with the balance of his form suggesting that he will not be playing a part in this, however he is hard to rule out entirely for Peter Fahy. With his only hurdling win to date coming on debut way back in December 2013, he was not in bad form over hurdles when last seen, finishing a laboured ninth at Fairyhouse in a Grade B handicap before slipping up in this race last year when still travelling well before two out. After a very poor run at the Curragh on the flat when last seen back in August, he is seemingly on the back foot. Although he is onto the mark that he ran well off in this last year, he is entitled to need the run after 261 days off the track. Place claims if fully ready to go on seasonal debut, but that cannot be guaranteed.
5 SANIBEL ISLAND – Lightly raced five-year-old for Gordon Elliott who’s been a mixed bag this season, gaining an overdue success when winning at Navan on his penultimate start in comfortable fashion. Raised 8lb for the success, he struggled at Downpatrick after a bad mistake three out and he was found to have a small cut to his right hind leg and slightly lame. That effort can have a line drawn across it and, if he returns to the form of his penultimate run, he is not a forlorn hope in this as he was looking progressive. He would probably prefer cut in the ground, but he copes well on better ground and has definite place if recovering from that run 30 days ago.
6 LIGHT THAT – The Harrington yard are absolutely flying at the moment, though this five-year-old will need to improve markedly on his recent hurdling runs if he is to extend this good period for the yard. Although winning at Gowran Park back in November in novice company, he struggled when pitched into handicap company; he was well beaten at Leopardstown on two separate occasions and he has not been seen since over timber. He has run well at a low level on the flat since, but the fact that he has only dropped a pound in the handicap since that last hurdling run is of concern. Others make more appeal in this instance and he will need to improve dramatically on what he has shown in handicaps so far if he wants to feature.
7 VEINARD – Another for Gordon Elliott who has looked like he was coming to the boil in recent times. Although he is only 1-17 over hurdles in his career, he has been running well this season. Finishing placed on four occasions since winning at Clonmel back in November, he was last seen following Thomas Hobson home seven days ago in a Grade A handicap at Fairyhouse. He remains on the same mark and, if not feeling the effects this time out, he will have a big chance now downed in grade with conditions to suit. Not one to take lightly and has to be respected.
8 MILES TO MEMPHIS – Returning from just under a year off in February, Denise Foster’s eight-year-old took his second hurdling victory at Navan when beating the in-form Lilshane comfortably. Raised 3lb as a result of the two length success, he ran incredibly again when narrowly denied in a Grade B handicap at Cork despite some mistakes on the way round. He has consequently been put up another 3lb but, if jumping with more fluency this time around, he will surely have a good chance of placing as he seems progressive this season and is lightly raced compared to some. Conditions are to suit and he has the services of Mark Enright so he looks booked to go close.
9 ADREAMSTILLALIVE – Arrives to the race on a five timer so there can no doubt about him being in-form, though this is tougher than what he has been facing and he may just hit the wall on this occasion. Making it four wins on the spin on his latest start at Limerick, that race was much easier than this as he steps into graded handicap company for the first time, so a 7lb rise may put the brakes on him. He arrives in good heart and cannot be totally dismissed. However, he would probably prefer more cut in the ground and can be opposed on this occasion.
10 CLARA SORRENTO – Lightly raced six-year-old who has only six runs under his belt this season for Noel Meade, posting a career best on his third hurdling start when winning comfortably at Clonmel in March. On handicap debut on his latest start he tried to make most under Sean Flanagan, but some poor jumps saw him headed and he weakened quickly after three out. He remains on the same mark and, although Bryan Cooper prefers him to Dakota Moirette, others are more appealing and he is passed over on this occasion.
11 DAKOTA MOIRETTE – Gordon Elliott four-year-old who showed promise earlier this season but has not gone on the last twice, perhaps owing to the competition that he has faced. He ran admirably when seventh in the Fred Winter at the Cheltenham Festival, though his subsequent 17th was undeniably disappointing after weakening tamely up the straight. He will need much more if he is to be taking this. However, if he returns to the form of his penultimate run, he would not be amiss in the placings at a big price as he still has room for improvement at the age of four.