Ireland’s longest race features on third day of Punchestown

Klassical Dream tops betting to become first back-to-back scorer since Queveaga

The featured €275,000 Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle underlines how stamina is what it says on the festival tin for Day 3 of Punchestown. A total of eight runners in the big race includes the quirky cross-channel star Paisley Park who makes his first start in Ireland.

However, with the dual-Cheltenham Stayers champion Flooring Porter absent, it is last year's winner Klassical Dream who tops the betting to become the first back-to-back scorer since Queveaga.

Backing up Thursday's endurance theme will be Ireland's longest race, the four-and-a-quarter mile Mongey La Touche Cup over the Cross-Country course. Enda Bolger hasn't won since 2018 which constitutes a near-famine for the 'Banks King' with 14 La Touche victories in all.

He relies on Shady Operator this time in a 17-strong field that also includes last year’s shock 33-1 winner Singing Banjo and Vital Island who scored on Tuesday.

There is another three-mile hurdle later on the card but to balance things out Thursday’s other Grade 1, the Barberstown Castle Novice Chase, is a two-mile heat featuring the latest appearance by Willie Mullins’s speedster, Gentleman de Mee.

Mercurial eight-year-old

The Mullins team also have Concertista in the big race but their principal focus is likely to be on Klassical Dream. The mercurial eight-year-old overcame a 487 day absence to lift the Stayers crown a year ago.

On that evidence the stamina division looked his to dominate this season given a clear run with injuries. He has had that but although the physical wheels haven’t come off since he won at Christmas, he has failed to fire in two subsequent starts.

A return to familiar and less stamina-sapping ground may help Klassical Dream regain winning form but it is a significant “if” at short odds.

Any literal formbook reading identifies Sire Du Berlais as the one to beat. The Cheltenham festival veteran got the better of Flooring Porter at Aintree earlier this month, gaining a popular first Grade 1 career victory. He makes a quick turnaround here – and being too literal about the Liverpool form may be misleading – but there's no hardier operator in the race.

In Flooring Porter’s absence, Gavin Cromwell allows his 2021 Cheltenham winner Vanillier return to hurdles after an anti-climactic campaign over fences. Perhaps the finest stayer of all, Big Buck’s, did a similar switch to some effect and one thing assured with Vanillier is stamina.

Gentleman de Mee upset the ranking applecart in the two-mile novice division with a comprehensive defeat of the Arkle winner Edwardstone in Liverpool. There didn't appear to be any fluke about it and significantly Edwardstone's trainer Alan King insisted there wasn't.

A three-week turnaround isn’t ideal but Gentleman de Mee is progressing quickly and his 164 rating is hard to argue with in this context.

There will be no more popular La Touche winner than Peter Maher's veteran 15 year old Ballyboker Bridge who will try to repeat his 2019 success. Locally based Maher has another string to his La Touche bow in Blast Of Koeman who warmed up over hurdles at Thurles recently. At 11 years old, the comparative "youngster" could be a touch of betting value.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column

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