All the key questions as Penhill heads up seven-strong Mullins squad
Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle | Grade 1 | 3m | 4yo+ | ATR/RTE
Quevega won the race four times on the trot between 2010 and 2013 for Willie Mullins, who also landed the 2009 running with Fiveforthree and the 2003 renewal with Holy Orders. The champion trainer is responsible for seven of the 12 runners this time around as he chases the lion's share of the €275,000 prize-money.
Mullins’ squad is headed by Penhill, winner of the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, closely followed by Bacardys, who fell at the last in the same race when it looked as though he was about to deliver a big challenge.
Will Patrick add to his championship collection?
Patrick Mullins got his name on the championship scoresheet at the Punchestown festival 12 months ago when partnering Wicklow Brave to success in the Champion Hurdle, and on Tuesday the nine-time champion amateur added the Champion Chase to his haul, courtesy of an exemplary display aboard Un De Sceaux.
Mullins has a terrific opportunity of adding this race to his trophy cabinet aboard Bacardys, a horse he guided to two Grade 1 novice hurdle successes last season, including one at this festival over two and a half miles.
He said: “I’m really looking forward to riding him again. The pace of the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham was too slow and I expect him to get much closer to Penhill this time.”
Will Faugheen fire or is this Penhill’s to lose?
It was at this track in 2015 where David Mullins entered the Grade 1 club when narrowly getting the better of the previously unbeaten Faugheen aboard Nichols Canyon in the Morgiana Hurdle.
Now Mullins has been handed the ride on Faugheen, with the 2015 Champion Hurdle winner trying to notch his first success over this trip since winning a Limerick Novice Hurdle back in 2013.
Faugheen comes into the race off the back of a midfield finish behind Buveur D'Air in the Champion Hurdle, leaving trainer Willie Mullins to believe a step up in trip is what the Rich Ricci-owned star wants at this stage in his career.
Mullins said: “There seems little doubt Faugheen has lost his best form and we're putting him up in trip to see if that might rekindle the old fire at a track where he has done well in the past.
“He won over the distance as a novice but it's a concern that he hasn't fired like he used to in recent outings.”
Penhill, of course, sets the standard, and Mullins added of his dual Cheltenham Festival winner: “He's been in good form since winning at Cheltenham last month.
“Considering he'd been off the track for so long it was a very good performance and if he can repeat it he'll have a big chance of following up.”
Is Thief going to rob them all?
Identity Thief could be the potential joker in the pack. Henry de Bromhead’s eight-year-old bounced back to form over this trip in the Grade 1 Liverpool Hurdle, a triumph that Gigginstown boss Eddie O'Leary attributes to rider Sean Flanagan.
O’Leary said: “It was entirely Sean’s idea to step the horse up in trip and that’s why we did it, so all credit must go to him. It was a good performance and Henry has reported Identity Thief has come out of Aintree very well.”
He added: “I’m not worried about him backing up quickly or anything like that as he’s a fresh horse who only started back in February.”
Will Diamond sparkle for Elliott?
Diamond Cauchois has shown serious improvement this season for Gordon Elliott, who also runs Lieutenant Colonel, with one having a more obvious chance than the other.
Elliott said: “Diamond Cauchois in good form and we’re hoping for a very good run. If more rain fell between now and the race we wouldn’t mind that in the slightest. Lieutenant Colonel is only making up the numbers, though.”
Will wind op work for Bague?
La Bague Au Roi was bitterly disappointing behind Benie Des Dieux in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham but has since had a wind operation and representing Warren Greatrex, who won this race two seasons back with One Track Mind, bids to recapture her best form.
Greatrex said: “She was slightly disappointing at Cheltenham but has had a wind op since then. She's come out of that well and has been pleasing us in her work. I really think going back up in trip to three miles will help her and if she's on her A-game she should be competitive, especially with a 7lb allowance.”
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