We take a look through the ante-post betting in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle and offer readers an expert each-way tip.
Ever since Istabraq claimed the Champion Hurdle title here at Punchestown in 1999, the best two mile sprinters in the world have descended upon County Kildare to try and claim a slice of hurdling history. Moscow Flyer became the third Champion Hurdler in 2001 and was followed into the Punchestown winners enclosure by Irish horse racing greats like Hardy Eustace, Brave Inca, Hurricane Fly and Faugheen.
Thanks mainly to Hurricane Fly’s heroics between 2010 and 2013, Willie Mullins has claimed the Champion Hurdle title here at Punchestown six times in the last seven years. With Faugheen unable to defend his title due to injury last season, Vroum Vroum Mag
(6/1 Paddy Power
) stepped up to the plate and comfortably saw off her challengers to land an excellent victory.
Ever since her unbeaten record was shattered by Apple's Jade in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, Mullins’ mare has looked a little off her game. If she does hit the line in this race, she has to be considered a threat, but she looks much better suited to staying trips than two mile sprints.
If Annie’s return fails to materialise, then Arctic Fire
(3/1 William Hill
) is ready to step into the breach. Willie Mullins produced one of the outstanding training performances of the season to get Arctic Fire - who had been out injured for 14 months - fit enough to compete in and eventually win the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Paul Townend took a wide route to circumnavigate the large field around the final bend, positioned himself perfectly on the rail and swooped past all his competitors to land a stunning victory off top-weight. He finished eight lengths behind Faugheen in the 2015 Punchestown Champion Hurdle, just over a month after a crashing fall in Cheltenham's equivalent contest. The Champion Stayers’ Hurdle remains an option if Annie Power is fit, but if she isn’t, he is likely to go to post as the favourite.
Arctic Fire (right) following Faugheen home in this race two seasons ago.
) has been in excellent form this season, winning two Graded titles at Leopardstown and would have added the Fighting Fifth trophy to his seasonal CV, had a fall at the last not put an end to his bid for glory at Newcastle. Henry De Bromhead’s charge tried to take on the Champion Hurdle field from the front, before eventually fading to a respectable third place finish.
My Tent Or Yours
(5/1 Paddy Power
) has enjoyed another successful sprint, finishing second in the Champion Hurdle contests at Cheltenham and Aintree. He's performed admirably this season, but this could just be one race too many. Brain Power
(7/1 William Hill
) failed to recapture his handicap winning form in the Champion Hurdle, eventually falling from a midfield position to finish ninth. He skipped a run at Aintree to target this races and after a good showing on his Punchestown Festival debut last season, Henderson will be hopeful he can improve upon that performance.
The enigma that is Labaik
(16/1 Paddy Power
took a surprising turn when he claimed the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle title at the Cheltenham Festival. Gordon Elliott’s charge returned to his old wicked ways earlier this week, when he completely missed the start on the Champion Novice Hurdle and cantered round at the back of the field. That race will have taken very little out of him and he looks set for a second start in a week. When he gets off, he wins, so the start will be alll important for Labaik.Tombstone
(16/1 Paddy Power
) was well fancied going into the Coral Cup, but he really struggled in that large field. Identity Thief
) returned to hurdling at Aintree, a switch which couldn’t arrest his poor seasonal form as Henry De Bromhead watched his charge trail home as the final finisher.
This renewal of the Punchestown Champion Hurdle looks very tough to call and there is no doubting it lacks a little of the star quality we have come to expect of a contest of this stature. Arctic Fire and Petit Mouchoir both come into Punchestown with strong title claims, but looking at the current betting, VROUM VROUM MAG offers plenty of value.
She may have struggled for form this season and it would be a surprise if she didn't embrak upon a staying chaing career next season. However, she remains a very classy mare and those two well publicised defeats have come by very, very slim margins. Her current price is too good to be passed up.
5:30pm Punchestown Champion Hurdle selection - VROUM VROUM MAG
(6/1 Paddy Power