We're tipping up a couple of Willie Mullins-trained runners at big odds.
Day one of the Punchestown Festival sees a couple of Willie Mullins’ superstars – Douvan and Don Poli – back in action and a repeat of their Cheltenham form would see them home and hosed.
Of the pair, Don Poli probably has the harder task in the Growise Champion Novice Chase (6.40pm) as his main rival Apache Stronghold got to within three lengths of him at Leopardstown over Christmas and may finish closer still on today’s better ground. He’s tempting at 6/1, but there’s a better bet lurking in the 2m Boylesports Champion Chase (5.30pm) in the shape of FELIX YOUNGER.
He’s one of three Mullins-trained runners in the race and is the third string according to the latest betting, with stablemates Champagne Fever and Twinlight preferred by the layers. However, the former ran flat at Aintree last time and is perhaps best over further these days, while Twinlight is too inconsistent to trust. On the other hand, Felix Younger, the mount of Danny Mullins, never seems to run a bad race – he’s finished first or second in 15 of his 19 races – and arrives here in terrific form, having landed a hat-trick in a Grade 2 at Navan late last month.
That success came on heavy ground but he’s actually better when it’s riding good, as evidenced by his second to Simonsig on a quickish surface in the 2012 Neptune Novices’. He’s yet to win a Grade 1, admittedly, but he’s finished runner-up a couple of times and this race has likely been his target for a long time, whereas it may be an afterthought for some of his rivals coming as it does at the end of a long season. Thankfully, the presence of those rivals serve to inflate his price to what is a very backable 7/1.
The Killashee Handicap Hurdle (4.55pm) looks impossible at first glance but it’s just the sort of big-field handicap I like to have a crack at, and I’m going to have two stabs at finding the winner. First up is HENRY HIGGINS who has been taking on some smart types since his maiden win on good ground at Gowran Park in October, including when finishing runner-up to Kitten Rock in a Grade 3 at Naas. Today’s better ground is very much in his favour and novices like him have a good record in this race. Mark Walsh takes the ride.
At even bigger odds, Willie Mullins’ LUCKY BRIDLE should give us a good run for our money. Recent form figures of ‘0F0′ don’t look too promising at first glance, but he was making late headway when falling two out in the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival two starts back, and he was perhaps given too much to do at Fairyhouse last time, where he raced without his usual hood. The headgear is back on today and the better ground allied with a stronger pace should help this strong-puller to settle and run his race under the excellent Paul Townend.