Solwhit attempts to emulate Sprinter Sacre today with a Cheltenham-Aintree-Punchestown hat-trick by taking the €170,000 Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle, but Quevega can prove how deadly the female of the species can be around here.
Winner of the three-mile staying highlight for the last three years, the seldom-seen but impossible to forget Quevega is back for more. And this attempt is on the back of her remarkable five-in-a-row achievement at Cheltenham.
That record-equalling fifth win in the mares hurdle was the least visually impressive of the five at the finish but in many ways it was the most meritorious.
Quevega’s chance looked all but gone when stumbling after the fourth last. The groans that accompanied her industrious progress down the hill were as heartfelt as the cheers when it became clear she was going to pull victory out of the fire.
The idea that a mare who has run just eight times in nearly four years might take in Liverpool on her way back to Punchestown was never a runner but that crucial break could prove decisive today.
Solwhit’s rejuvenation after injury has been one of the stories of the season. And the class that enabled him to once beat Hurricane Fly was evident in the way he filled the breach left by Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham.
That the Charles Byrnes-trained star managed to rout an inferior field even more impressively at Liverpool was no surprise, just as it is no surprise Solwhit is set to attempt a third Grade One success in six weeks here.
On official ratings he has 3lb in hand of Quevega around a track he likes and on ground that holds no terrors. But even Sprinter Sacre was not as impressive as usual in the third leg of the festival Triple Crown and he had a lot more in hand of Sizing Europe on figures.
After such a successful campaign it is little wonder Byrnes is setting his stable star one more challenge before a well-deserved summer break but the Co Limerick trainer admits he is taking something of a shot in the dark.
"He was just a bit flat after Aintree but in the last few days he's been pretty good. It's a big ask after running at both Cheltenham and Aintree but he seemed to win easier at Aintree," he said yesterday.
“He was just a wee bit flat and I could have really done with another week, but he can have a long break after this,” added Byrnes.
By contrast Quevega is plotting a well-worn route and trainer Willie Mullins – who also pitches the 2009 winner Fiveforthree and Zaidpour into the contest – is confident his star mare is ready to stretch the fine record of mares in this race. Prior to Quevega’s hat-trick, Refinement won here in 2007 and the year before that Asian Maze was successful.
“She nearly came down at Cheltenham and to do that, recover, and get up to win was huge,” said Mullins. “I think Quevega has come out of her race very well.”
It may seem contradictory then to plump for Alderwood in the other Grade One, the €100,000 Ryanair Novice Chase, since he followed up a Grand Annual win at Cheltenham with only a third to Special Tiara at Aintree.
But Alderwood never looked happy around Liverpool's fast two miles and it may pay to remember how he won last year here in Grade One company over hurdles, having earlier scored at Cheltenham and Fairyhouse.
Gordon Elliott’s novice team have been flying but Realt Mór is unlikely to get another solo in front here while Benefficient is taking a big drop back in trip.
Henry De Bromhead fears the ground may not be ideal for his surprise Aintree winner Special Tiara but could strike
with You Must Know who reverts to hurdles after three starts over fences. The horse won his sole start over flights a year ago when beating a decent sort in Shrapnel.
Arabella Boy returns to his favourite track for the La Touche Cup after another lacklustre effort at Cheltenham a month ago. Derek O'Connor takes over from the injured Nina Carberry as Enda Bolger, winner of the La Touche in 12 of the last 20 renewals, bids to get his Punchestown revenge on Big Shu.
Acapulco, a classic runner for Aidan O’Brien in the 2007 Derby and Leger, won well at Cork a month ago and should be sharper for that in the three-mile handicap.