Earthly named Flooring Porter sets the standard at Punchestown

The horse was bought by a four man syndicate after seeing him for sale on Facebook

Those who despair of jump racing’s top echelon being a closed shop will have a tough job making their argument in Thursday’s Grade 1 feature at Punchestown.

Willie Mullins has four runners in the €250,000 Champion Stayers Hurdle, and Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary has three, but it is the earthly named Flooring Porter who sets the standard.

The horse bought by a four man syndicate after seeing him for sale on Facebook has proved to be one of the feel-good stories of the year.

Named because his owners are involved in both the pub and flooring business in Galway, Flooring Porter has been a revelation since given his head and allowed bowl along in front in his races.

An easy handicap success at Navan in December was followed by a Grade 1 victory at Leopardstown over Christmas before the Gavin Cromwell trained star memorably secured championship honours in the Stayers at Cheltenham.

Jonathan Moore’s late defection due to injury understandably grabbed much of the focus on that occasion.

But it was ultimately a superbly accomplished victory by the horse despite once again exhibiting a quirky tendency to hang in the closing stages.

Moore is back on board this time as Flooring Porter runs off an official mark two stone higher than when winning at Navan. However he isn’t the only big-race contender that has managed to grab the popular imagination.

Little guy

Greyhound trainer Paul Hennessy, who has a couple of racehorses as a sideline, achieved a lifetime's ambition with his home-bred Heaven Help Us winning Cheltenham's Coral Cup at 33-1.

Now he pitches the mare into top-flight company under regular jockey Richie Condon.

Another 'little guy' element is provided by last year's Stayers runner up Ronald Pump, bought for €1,000 as a youngster, who came closer than anyone to beating Honeysuckle by getting to within half a length of her in the Hatton's Grace on his last start.

Another Cheltenham winner, Mrs Milner, takes the leap into Grade 1 company and would be another popular winner on the back of her decisive Pertemps victory last month for Paul Nolan.

With the Grade 1 victory of the £600 purchase Skyace at Fairyhouse on Easter Sunday still fresh - and she is set to line up again on Saturday - it all represents a refreshing change from the usual suspects dominating at the top level.

There is no sentiment however in Flooring Porter’s new-found status.

An official 164 rating means he officially has 6lbs in hand of his nearest rated rival, Beacon Edge, who was fourth at Cheltenham.

On that occasion Flooring Porter did it the hard way from the front and still proved decisively too good for Sire Du Berlais and Paisley Park despite momentarily hanging on the run in.

Slightly quicker ground and going right-handed shouldn’t be an issue considering he won at Gowran last summer so it’s hard to find fault with his credentials for a Cheltenham-Punchestown festival double.

Maybe Heaven Help Us going from the front too could present a complication but the mare has a lot to find with her rival on ratings.

Another unknown factor could be one of the Mullins quartet, James Du Berlais, who is having his second start for the champion trainer.

He was pitched in at the highest level for the Champion Hurdle but quickly faded once the tempo increased down the hill.

His best French form suggests stamina rather than speed is his forte so a mile more could see significant progress.

Whether it would be enough to get past Flooring Porter is something most punters will probably decline to bet on.

It was the last Millennium when the Stayers champion at Cheltenham managed to double up at Punchestown. That was Anzum in 1999. Popular expectation will be that Flooring Porter’s rare story is about to get a new chapter added to it.

Separately on the card, the veteran 13 year old Unowhatimeanharry, winner of the big race in 2019 and 2017, will have his 43rd career start in three mile handicap hurdle.

He is one of half a dozen JP McManus runners in the race and last month's Downpatrick winner Pure Genius is the pick of Mark Walsh.

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