The Grade 1 Punchestown Champion Hurdle headlines day four of the end-of-season Festival there on Friday (17:30), and last year’s winner Supasundae looks the safest bet.
Trainer Jessica Harrington has won two of the last five runnings of the 2m feature contest. In Supasundae, she has a nine-year-old who rarely runs a bad race.
While independent falls for the re-opposing Melon and Samcro three out in this race 12 months ago more or less handed him victory, he has since recorded a third career Grade 1 success at Aintree.
That came over 2m 4f, which may be Supasundae’s optimum trip, where he avoided the trouble in-running which inconvenienced Buveur D’Air who re-opposes to score by 1 1/4 lengths.
The assessor has left Supasundae on an unchanged mark of 161 and instead reduced the runner-up’s rating by 5lb. It may day the son of Galileo a disservice, who remains a consistent performer unlike some of his rivals here.
While Supasundae does have plenty to find with Apple’s Jade on two previous meetings this season, she has once again seen her form tail off towards the end of the campaign.
Taking all that into account, the 7/2 on offer with Paddy Power for Supasundae to land back-to-back runnings of the Punchestown Champion Hurdle makes sense under regular rider Robbie Power.
Comeback trail continues for Buveur D’Air
Dual Cheltenham Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air has only won once at the highest level in four previous attempts this season.
The British raider is trained by Nicky Henderson for leading Irish owner JP McManus, but does have questions to answer.
While a drop back in trip is sure to suit the eight-year-old, Buveur D’Air has started to make mistakes when before his hurdling was slick and precise. It’s a major concern from a betting perspective.
Although Buveur D’Air ran a massive race in trying to give stable companion Verdana Blue a 7lb mares allowance going down a short-head at Kempton in the Christmas Hurdle, a blunder three out proved costly.
Victory next time up in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown when dropped significantly in grade to Listed level was the third year running he had won that easily en route to the Cheltenham Festival.
Buveur D’Air took a tumble at the first flight in the back straight when bidding for the Champion Hurdle hat-trick.
Although then hampered by Melon falling at Aintree, he also made a mistake three out and didn’t have any extra to stop Supasundae.
Recent runs have left the 11-race unbeaten streak Buveur D’Air put together between April 2016 and last December well behind. While he is 7/4 favourite with 888Sport, the value looks in taking him on – for all his back form commands respect.
Apple’s Jade has point to prove
It’s the second consecutive season where Apple’s Jade has started the campaign in fearsome form only to then fail to maintain it through the business end.
Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown House Stud’s star mare romped to wide-margin victories over all distances in her first four starts this term.
If turning up in the same shape as when winning the Hatton’s Grace over 2m 4f in December or the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown when down to this trip, then Apple’s Jade has nothing to fear from Supasundae.
However, she was the first one beaten at Cheltenham and trailed in a 30-length sixth to Espoir D’Allen on her penultimate start.
Usually so tough and gutsy, Apple’s Jade was then outbattled in a thrilling finish to the Liverpool Hurdle over 3m at Aintree.
She dropped from first place close home and was far from disgraced in losing by just half-a-length to If The Cap Fits, with shock Mares’ Hurdle heroine Roksana a neck in front of her.
These are horses which weren’t rated anything like Apple’s Jade though, and that is the worry.
Her form also tailed off last season when twice third to Benie Des Dieux against her own sex at Cheltenham and this meeting 12 months ago. Elliott put this down to Apple’s Jade being in season and it may be the case again now.
Although a course and distance winner from her Champion Four-Year-Old success here back in 2016 and also a runaway winner of the mares’ race two years ago, odds of 4/1 with Ladbrokes can only be advised each-way.
Melon not reliable either
Willie Mullins has won the Punchestown Champion Hurdle a record eight times and is double-handed in his bid to enhance that dominance.
However, Melon has been nothing short of disappointing for regular backers and never beaten Supasundae in five attempts.
A record of two wins from 12 hurdles starts is a poor return from the seven-year-old who has gone back up 2lb for taking a tired and crashing fall when in front at Aintree last time out.
While Melon was best of the rest behind runaway Champion Hurdle winner Espoir D’Allen, he only just held on for second from 80/1 chance Silver Streak.
The form is open to question, especially when you consider how below par Laurina and Apple’s Jade were.
Melon has been an unlucky horse in some respects, but nor has he ever justified some of the lofty ratings allotted previously. He is zero from two career appearances at Punchestown and another who looks worth taking on.
Mullins also saddles 2017 winner Wicklow Brave, who is the oldest in the line-up at 10 and may have seen better days. Although a fine second when trying to defend his crown 12 months ago, the veteran has had a very busy season.
Wicklow Brave has since run on 13 occasions either on the Flat or over hurdles. Although chasing home Espoir D’Allen at Naas before Cheltenham and going down by a short-head at the Festival to William Henry in the Coral Cup is smart form, this is a big ask now.
An early fall in the Irish Strawberry Hurdle at Fairyhouse over Easter sees Wicklow Brave quickly turned down with just 11 days to get over that tumble. Even if he does prove no worse for it, he is vulnerable to others.
Petit Mouchoir and Summerville Boy the outsiders
The field of seven is completed by another Gigginstown runner Petit Mouchoir and British raider Summerville Boy. At least the former complete at Fairyhouse, but the return to hurdles hasn’t reignited any sparks.
Trained by Henry De Bromhead, Petit Mouchoir landed back-to-back Grade 1s in 2016-17, but hasn’t got his head in front over the smaller obstacles since.
On this season’s form, he has plenty to find with Supasundae and is one of the outsiders with good reason.
That leaves 2018 Supreme winner Summerville Boy. Trained by Tom George, the seven-year-old hasn’t looked the same force in open company in three starts this term.
Judging by his novice form, it looks to be a case of the softer the better for Summerville Boy. He’s never looked like landing a blow when a tailed off fourth at Aintree after a break, but still finished ahead of Champion Hurdle third Silver Streak.
Even more is needed to get involved in this despite some of the market principals having question marks hanging over them. Both Summerville Boy and Petit Mouchoir still have tons to find on those.
OpenOdds’ Punchestown Champion Hurdle shortlist
Buveur D’Air ✮✮✮✮✰
Apple’s Jade ✮✮✮✰✰