The Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle is the feature race on Day Three of the 2014 Punchestown Festival and sees a rare appearance by the remarkable mare Quevega.
A field of 10 are set to take their chances here, headed by At Fisher Cross, who has performed with great credit since a course of treatment during mid-winter. After a glittering novice career Rebecca Curtis’s 7 year old had a very disappointing start to the campaign but a few issues were ironed out and he signalled a return to form when second to Knockara Beau in the Cleeve Hurdle in January. He then ran well to finish third in the Ladbroke World Hurdle and followed-up with another good effort when second to Whisper at Aintree. After his indifferent start he has more than won the argument that he is a leading player in the top staying events and he is due a Grade 1 victory now.
Bog Warrior has mixed chasing and hurdling with great success in the last couple of years and ran well in last year’s World Hurdle when fifth – although that performance possibly exposed his limitations in the very highest grade. He was successful in a small Grade 2 chase at Navan on his latest start and is interesting reverting to hurdles again.
Fingal Bay looks a live threat to all here. Having been a smart novice hurdler who beat Simonsig no less, he was sent novice chasing before injury led to an absence of over a year. He returned at Exeter in a handicap hurdle in February and made a winning return. Pitched in at the deep end next time out, he shouldered top weight in the ultra-competitive Pertemps Network Final but travelled supremely well before fighting his way to a narrow victory over recent Sandown Park scorer Southfield Theatre. With the Philip Hobbs stable in great form, he looks a big danger.
Jetson finished fifth in that Cheltenham race, beaten just 2 ½ lengths. He has run with great credit this spring since recording a course victory here in February and after Cheltenham he again ran his heart out to finish fourth in another big field handicap to Doctor Harper. Whilst it would be terrific to see Jessica Harrington win this race with this old favourite, he looks up against it in this grade.
Knockara Beau’s triumph at Cheltenham in January was an enormous shock but underlined the ability this horse has had all throughout his career. Since winning the Cleeve Hurdle he has been chasing, running well to finish 6 lengths second to Long Run at Kelso and then running a fine seventh in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It is interesting to see him revert to hurdles here and of course he has a verdict in his favour against At Fishers Cross and Reve De Sivola.
Mourad has been a talented stayer at his best but has not shown that level of form for quite some time. Among lack lustre recent efforts he was last in the Limestone Lad Hurdle, third of four at Thurles and fifth of seven at Fairyhouse just over a week ago. His best form would give him a chance but recent runs do not suggest he is likely to reproduce that.
Reve De Sivola on a going day is a formidable opponent for any of these and there is the slightest thought that he may be a fraction better going right-handed, given his Ascot form, which seems superior to elsewhere. He won a second Long Walk Hurdle (in atrocious conditions) last December but was well beaten by Knockara Beau and At Fishers Cross at Cheltenham in January and a disappointing eighth in the World Hurdle last time out.
Sadler’s Risk has not yet hit the heights of his novice season since moving to Henry de Bromhead’s yard. He was beaten 8 lengths by Jetson here in February and was well down the field in Whisper’s Coral Cup triumph at Cheltenham and at present looks a little out of his depth.
Completing the line-up are a pair of mighty Willie Mullins’ mares, each receiving 7 pounds sex allowance. Glen’s Melody has been a wonderfully consistent mare this winter, winning three of her five starts since November and only going down to More Of That before her Festival run. At Cheltenham in March she took on her legendary stable mate Quevega in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle – and she gave her an almighty scare.
At the final flight Glen’s Melody had a few lengths in hand and was not stopping – however Quevega, now a 10 year old, dug deep and fought her way upsides her rival and surged into the lead at the line winning by ¾ of a length.
Quevega was winning the race for the sixth time, an all-time record tally for any horse at the Cheltenham Festival. It was her first run for 11 months too. Factor in that she has won this race for the past 4 years and has won her last 9 races, dating back to a defeat in May 2009 – and you have an exceptional mare, again primed for Grade 1 glory.
The second Grade 1 contest on the evening is the Ryanair Novice Chase over 2 miles, which sees plenty of the beaten Arkle horses back in competition.
Arnaud skipped Cheltenham but had some pretty good form going into a disappointing effort at Aintree. Charles Byrnes’ 6 year old won three consecutive chases, before heading to Doncaster in January and made a bold bid to make all, eventually succumbing to the smart Valdez. Having missed Cheltenham he next ran at Aintree in the competitive Red Rum Handicap Chase against seasoned campaigners and he came unstuck, finishing only ninth. He drops back into novice company now but faces a stern test against some high class rivals.
Balder Succes well qualifies for that label and has built a formidable record during 2014. Having won his first two races over fences – and having been a useful hurdler, Alan King’s horse always looked likely to take high order among the novice chasers this winter. Whilst the wheels came off somewhat in the Henry VIII Novices’ Chase in December, the stable was under a big cloud at the time. Since then, Balder Succes has been unbeatable, winning the Kingmaker impressively at Warwick in February and following-up in the Pendil Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park a couple of weeks later. King and the owners deliberately missed Cheltenham to ready Balder Succes for Aintree where he again excelled, beating Simply Ned in the Maghull Novices’ Chase. He looks just about the leading UK trained 2 mile novice and comes to Punchestown with a strong chance.
The tag high class certainly applies to the dual Cheltenham Festival winner Champagne Fever, who lost his unbeaten record there with a battling display in the Arkle. This top class hurdler had a verdict over Jezki last year but was sent chasing rather than pursuing a Champion Hurdle campaign. After an exciting first round of jumping here in November, Champagne Fever ran a flat kind of race when only third at Leopardstown over Christmas. In the weeks leading to Cheltenham he missed a couple of possible engagements as Willie Mullins felt not entirely happy with him – but cometh the hour, cometh the man – and Champagne Fever, despite his relative inexperience over fences in public, ran a mighty race in the Arkle. He jumped superbly and dictated much of the race before being suckered by a real loose cannon in Western Warhorse. Even then Champagne Fever fought back tenaciously up the hill, eventually going down by an agonising head. A repeat of that performance here would make him the one to beat and he won the Champion Bumper here 2 years ago.
Felix Yonger’s early season efforts signalled a potential superstar as he sauntered to three victories, the last of which being his 15 length demolition of Trifolium at Navan in December. However things went awry when his stable mate The Paparrazi Kid reversed earlier form over Christmas and then Trifolium did the same thing in the Arkle Trophy at Leopardstown. Stepped back up to 2 ½ miles at Cheltenham in the JLT Novices’ Chase, he never really threatened in finishing fourth. On his last two runs, Felix Yonger now looks as though he needs to find more improvement to win this.
God’s Own is another English raider, hailing from the Tom George stable. He was well behind Arnaud on his second start over fences at Doncaster, but then ran well going down by just 1 ¼ lengths to Balder Succes in the Pendil. On that form he has a chance but it would be some achievement if he were to break his chasing maiden against these rivals.
Moscow Mannon landed a Naas beginners chase by 15 lengths in February but seems to have had his limitations exposed since. He was second to Mount Colah at Leopardstown in March and then well beaten in fourth behind Balder Succes at Aintree.
Ted Veale is a popular mixed purpose horse with a touch of class but has yet to make his mark over fences. He won the 2013 Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle but in five efforts over fences, the best he has achieved is a solitary third place, albeit he has run in the highest grade. He fell in the Arkle at Cheltenham and was well held when only sixth to Balder Succes at Aintree.
Trifolium at some stages of this winter had looked like Ireland’s premier chaser in this division. Charles Byrnes horse was a smart hurdler who missed virtually 12 months before making a successful chasing debut at Thurles in November. He was then soundly defeated by Felix Yonger and then by Defy Logic at Leopardstown over Christmas. However he came to prominence in a big way with a 9 length success over Felix Yonger in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase and went to Cheltenham with high hopes in the Arkle Trophy. In the event he ran OK but without showing the same sparkle, eventually finishing third, 4 lengths behind Champagne Fever. He found Balder Succes too good by a similar margin when third at Aintree and looks to have something to find with both horses.