Our expert takes a look through the entrants who are set to line up in the Champion Four Year Old Hurdle and picks out an exciting juvenile who could triumph at the Punchestown Festival.
Juvenile contests are always extremely popular races with spectators during major festivals and a top-quality field of talented young hurdlers will fight amongst themselves for the Champion Four Year Old title at the Punchestown Festival.
Cheltenham and Aintree champion, Defi Du Seuil does hold an entry into this contest, but Philip Hobbs is unlikely to send his unbeaten star to Punchestown, after he has enjoyed an extremely busy and successful campaign.
Gordon Elliott’s Mega Fortune is likely to go to post as the favourite, after he was narrowly denied a second major festival title in a row by Defi Du Seuil in the Triumph Hurdle. Elliott’s charge produced a stunning front-running display to beat Ireland’s other top juveniles to the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle title at Leopardstown in February. Those bold tactics weren’t enough to seal the title at Cheltenham, but his runner-up finish cements his position at the top of the juvenile ladder here in Ireland.
El Marie Holden will have though Ex Patriot’s chances of winning at Cheltenham had gone completely as he led his handlers on a merry dance on the way to the Prestbury Park post. Despite wasting some valuable energy in the pre-race wander, the four-year-old finished very strongly up the Cheltenham hill to eventually cross the line fourth.
Landofhopeandglory was heavily backed before that outing in the Triumph Hurdle, but he could only muster a fifth-placed finish on favourably good ground. Joseph O’Brien’s young charge has a course-and-distance victory from his three-year-old season to back up his claims and he is likely to be a big danger on his return to Punchestown.
Gordon Elliott’s Dakota Moirette is the only other entrant who has triumphed over a two mile trip here at Punchestown, after beating Icario to the post on soft ground back in December. He put in a decent performance to finish ninth in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap at Cheltenham, but he will have to find a lot to challenge the market leaders for this title.
A.J. Martin might have been surprised to see Long Call receive such a push in the betting before the Fred Winter and he eventually went to post as the 9/1 second favourite. He failed to deliver at Cheltenham, crossing the line a disappointing tenth, so a much more impressive performance is expected from him when he makes his Punchestown debut.
Willie Mullins has watched four of his most promising charges claim this title in recent season and looks set to play a very strong hand as he looks for a fifth successive victory.
Orion D’Aubrelle is yet to make an appearance for Willie Mullins’s yard since making the move from France in February. Dandy Mag took strong form with him to Cheltenham last month, but he was severely outclassed and finished near the rear of the Triumph Hurdle field.
Merie Devie would have gone to post amongst the favourite in the Triumph Hurdle, but a minor injury cause Mullins young mare to miss the Festival. She finished fourth in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle on her last appearance and she seems to be a very progressive sort.
One Willie Mullins youngster who did make the trip to Cheltenham was BAPAUME and his form this season makes him the stand-out selection to win this year’s Champion Four Year Old title.
The Rich Ricco-owned four-year-old had beaten Mega Fortune twice during the early months of the season, but fell to a surprise defeat behind his rival, when finishing second in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle. Ruby Walsh looked to have his rivals number at Cheltenham and was travelling strongly behind the two leaders in the Triumph Hurdle. Sadly, a poor jump saw him peck on landing after the last and he couldn’t recover enough momentum to challenge the first two finishers.
He’s clearly a very classy young hurdler and it seems only a matter of time before Bapaume lands a maiden Grade 1 title and Willie Mullins will be hoping he only has to wait until the end of the month to watch his top juvenile claim a highly prestigious title.
29/4/2017 4:25pm Punchestown Champion Four Year Old Hurdle selection - BAPAUME