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Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle preview

The Willie Mullins, I mean Punchestown Festival, rolls on tomorrow with three more Grade 1 races, all of which have Mullins runners at the top of the market. Mind you, on day one, he might have swept the feature races, but only one of them was favourite.

After his success at Sandown on the weekend, Sam Tribe, @samtribe87, extends his astute analysis across the Irish Sea.

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Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle
Grade 1, 3m Hurdle, €95,000
1655 local time


So on Saturday Sandown hosted the final day of the British Season and we said goodbye to the greatest jockey of all time. Tears were shed by many but focus is now on the Punchestown Festival; five days of thrilling racing that draws the curtain on the Irish season. Willie Mullins dominated at the festival last year and if Cheltenham is anything to go by, he probably will again this year.

I’ve decided to take a look at the 3 mile novice hurdle as it has been used in the past as a step towards becoming a long distance chaser. RSA winner Don Poli was second in this last year and Gold Cup third Road To Riches ran in this the season before, albeit disappointingly. There are some decent prospects from Britain coming over and having a crack at it as well this year and will be buoyed by the fact Nicky Henderson trained Beat That won last season’s encounter. With ten top novices entered, this should be an enthralling race and not an easy one to call. The race is still quite young, with the first being run in 2008, and since then there has only been two favourites that have won, making this race all the more intriguing.

1. Arctic Skipper (Non-Runner)

2. Binge Drinker 16/1
I really like this horse and that has nothing to do with my alcohol consumption! He first caught my eye in a bumper at Chepstow early last year as he found the front and battled hard to win. Has won four out of six this season but was twice disappointing when pushed up to Grade Two Company and will find this very tough. That isn’t beyond him though. He comes in fresher than some and Curtis is currently in very good form (on a 50% strike rate for the past two weeks).

3. Fine Article 25/1
Can go the trip and finishes his races well when others start to fade. He has been runner-up on the previous three occasions though, having been the favourite for one of them as well. The ground could be a concern as well as both his wins have come on heavy. Stamina to burn though and has fairly decent each way claims.

4. Fletchers Flyer 10/1
Here’s another horse that has had a good first season over hurdles, especially when upped in trip from 2m 4f. He probably should’ve won last time out but was beaten by a great driving ride by Dickie Johnson on Definitely Red and can be forgiven for being beaten by half a length. Shows he can stay and fight doggedly to the end, the ground is a concern as he would like a bit more cut.

5. High Stratos 50/1
Won a maiden hurdle back in March but is seemingly out of his depths in grade 1 company here.

6. Killultagh Vic 10/1
Won the Martin Pipe Conditional’s edging out Noble Endeavour by a head in a thrilling finish up the Cheltenham hill. Another who seems to go better when the conditions are a little more challenging as wins have come on soft ground. Stays all day though and could be in the mix come the end.

7. No More Heroes 3/1
His performance in the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham festival was impressive especially as Bryan Cooper had to switch him from the rail as the gap closed on the run up the hill. Gordon Elliot resisted the temptation to go to Aintree earlier in the month ensuring he was fresh for a stab at this.

8. Roi Du Francs 14/1
Disappointingly pulled up last time out at Aintree where he never really got going and probably found the race was far too quick for him and the trip didn’t suit either. Has an entry for the Champion Novices Hurdle on Friday, which is run over 2m 4f and would suit better.

9. Shaneshill 6/4
The third of Willie Mullins’ entries and without shadow of doubt the star of the show. Chased home Douvan in the Supreme Novices Hurdle before going on to win comfortable over 2m 4f last time out at Fairyhouse. Stepped up in trip again but suggests that improvement is inevitable.

10. Sub Lieutenant 20/1
Won a grade two at Thurles back in February beating the impressive Milsean on bottomless ground over 2 miles 4 furlongs. Stepped up here for the first time and question marks over whether he can stay the trip.

11. Thistlecrack 7/1
Stepped up to this trip last time out at Aintree and proved a decisive winner by 13 lengths. However Alpha Des Obeaux would’ve pushed him close had he not have fallen at the last hurdle. Still, has had an impressive season and is proven over the trip. Can go close.

Conclusion
A number of these have the credentials to move onto the larger obstacles next season and become decent novice chasers. The best of those could be Shaneshill however, who really looks the sort to become a Gold Cup horse. If No More Heroes goes in this one then he could definitely have a say but my each way option has to be Binge Drinker. Proven at the trip and off a nice win at Bangor, he can certainly find his way into a placed position at the end.

Selections:
Shaneshill to win.
Binge Drinker each-way.

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