Timeform preview Thursday's Champion Stayers' Hurdle on day three of the Punchestown Festival and recommend a bet...
"A dual winner over two and a half miles at Auteuil in the summer, where he could be campaigned again this year, it's reasonable to expect improvement now stepped back up in trip."
Willie Mullins last won this race in 2013 with Quevega - her fourth and final win in the contest - however he has since gone close with Hurricane Fly (2nd in 2015) and the most logical place to start this preview is with Mullins' Stayers' Hurdle winner Nichols Canyon, who was recording his eighth Grade 1 success last month at Cheltenham. That was just his second run over three miles, the other coming in the Iroquois Hurdle in America (below form in third), and he could well have more to offer at this trip. Nichols Canyon is likely to seek the lucrative bonus for winning both the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham and next month's Iroquois Hurdle in Nashville, but he will prove a tough nut to crack here before that.
Second and third behind Nichols Canyon at Cheltenham were Lil Rockerfeller and Unowhatimeanharry. The former ran his best race to date and will probably give his running again given his solid profile. Unowhatimeanharry took his unbeaten record for Harry Fry to eight when winning the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January, adding to wins in the Long Distance at Newbury and the Long Walk at Ascot (Lil Rockerfeller four and a half lengths back in second). Though he wasn't disgraced in the Stayers' Hurdle, Unowhatimeanharry wasn't at his very best, but he'll have major claims of reversing the form if returning to his peak, though the ground must again be of some concern (trainer cited it as a potential reason for his below-par effort at Cheltenham).
Another from the Stayers' Hurdle is Snow Falcon, who wasn't disgraced back in fifth at Cheltenham and built on that effort with a good third to Yanworth in the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree next time. A horse who arrives here much fresher is last year's winner One Track Mind, who has only been seen twice this season, both over fences. He made a serious early error on his chasing debut at Newbury, but had no such excuses for his flop at Catterick 18 days after, looking laboured from an early stage. It is no surprise to see him back over hurdles now, but he does have something to prove given the form he was in when we last saw him.
Sutton Place has a little bit to find on weight-adjusted ratings, but Gordon Elliott's charge has been a revelation since suffering his sole defeat on his hurdling debut at Navan in December 2015. He won his three subsequent starts that season and has continued that winning streak this term, winning the Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas (by seven and a half lengths from subsequent Coral Cup winner Supasundae) in January, before completing the five-timer in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan last time by three and three quarter lengths from De Plotting Shed, who reopposes here. He remains capable of better still, though connections had suggested that his participation hinged on the track receiving rain.
Though he only receives a 1 lb weight allowance, the five-year-old Footpad looks overpriced. Tuesday's win for Cilaos Emery over his better-fancied sablemate Melon was another indication that it can pay to look outside of the stable no.1 hopes, and Footpad was a respectable 10 and a half lengths fourth to Buveur d'Air in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last time. A dual winner over two and a half miles at Auteuil in the summer, where he could be campaigned again this year, it's reasonable to expect improvement now stepped back up in trip. Two of the last three winners of this race have been sent off at double-figure odds and Footpad, who only needs to improve half a dozen lb for the longer trip to challenge the best of these, looks a good each-way bet.
Win back Footpad in the Champion Stayers' Hurdle at Punchestown on Thursday