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It could be Samcro or bust for Elliott as title fight reaches tipping point

Gordon Elliott: saddles the hugely exciting Samcro at Punchestown
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5.30 Punchestown
BETDAQ 2% Commission Punchestown Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) | 4yo and up| 2m | RTE2/ATR

Will superstar novice step up in style?

Contender: Samcro

A star performer in bumpers and unbeaten in novice hurdles, Samcro lived up to his billing when landing the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last month.

Now the Gordon Elliott-trained six-year-old takes on more experienced rivals for the first time as he chases a six-figure first prize to aid his trainer's title race quest

The Gigginstown House Stud-owned son of Germany is four from four over hurdles and connections had the choice of three races this week before opting for Friday's event.

Elliott, who also runs rank outsider The Game Changer, said yesterday: "We could have run him in either of the Grade 1 novice hurdles but we decided to let him take his chance in this race.

"He's in very good form and how he gets on against the more experienced horse should point us in the right direction regarding what route we'll go with him next season."

Pros Unbeaten and rated very highly by his trainer. Big chance of retaining his unbeaten record.

Cons Facing biggest test to date as he steps out of novice company for the first time.

Champion Hurdle second leading the Closutton clan 

Contenders: Melon, Wicklow Brave, Min, Coquin Mans and Bleu Berry

Willie Mullins has landed this prize eight times and he launches a five-strong challenge led by Melon, runner-up to Buveur D'Air in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.

That was a career-best effort from the six-year-old, who is owned by Marie Donnelly whose Al Boum Photo grabbed the headlines on Tuesday with his dramatic and bizarre last-fence exit in the Growise Champion Novice Chase.

Paul Townend has bounced back from that incident and he partners Melon, who will be bidding for a first Grade 1 win and who lost by a neck at Cheltenham.

Mullins said: "Melon ran a cracking race in the Champion Hurdle and we've been happy with him since. If he runs to his Cheltenham form he'll have a big chance."

Hurricane Fly won the race four times for Mullins, who will be seeking a fourth consecutive victory in the event following Faugheen (2015), Vroum Vroum Mag (2016) and Wicklow Brave 12 months ago.

Wickow Brave is again partnered by Patrick Mullins, who was on board last year, while Min, running over hurdles for the first time since chasing Altior home in the 2016 Supreme Novices', is making his second appearance of the week having finished fourth in the BoyleSports Champion Chase on Tuesday.

Coquin Mans, a Grade 2 winner over 2m4f at Fairyhouse on his most recent start, and Coral Cup winner Bleu Berry complete the Mullins quintet.

Melon pros and cons

Pros Produced a career best when running Buveur D'Air close at Cheltenham.

Cons What effect, if any, his Cheltenham exertions might have had.

Irish Champion hero down in trip again

Contender: Supasundae

Winner of the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in February, the Jessica Harrington-trained eight-year-old has run in the first three at Grade 1 level over different distances on all of his five starts this season.

Runner-up to Penhill over 3m at Cheltenham last month, he also ran second to L'Ami Serge in the Aintree Hurdle over 2m4f on his most recent start and Harrington, who has sent out three winners of today's event – Moscow Flyer, Macs Joy and Jezki – reports Robbie Power's mount in "great form" going into the big race.

Supasundae: gallant in defeat the last twice

Harrington said: "Supasundae came out of Aintree very well. He's in great order and I'm delighted with him. We could have run him in the Stayers Hurdle [on Thursday] but decided on this race instead as two miles on easy ground should suit better than three on the same ground."

Pros Admirably consistent performer over a range of distances and has a Grade 1 to his credit over this trip.

Cons Had a tough race at Aintree only 15 days ago.

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How he gets on against the more experienced horses should point us in the right direction regarding what route we'll go with him next season
E.W. Terms