Supreme stars set for Punchestown Festival rematch

Cheltenham Festival one-two Slade Steel and Mystical Power will renew their rivalry in the KPMG Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

There was little to choose between the pair in the betting for the curtain-raising Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park and both came to the fore at the business end.

The Willie Mullins-trained Mystical Power looked likely to prevail after taking over at the final flight, but Henry de Bromhead’s Slade Steel roared back racing up the famous hill and was ultimately well on top at the line.

Mystical Power has since done his bit to aid his trainer’s ultimately successful bid to win the British trainers’ title by going one better at Aintree, however, setting up a mouthwatering rematch with his Cheltenham conqueror in County Kildare.

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“Slade Steel is in really good form since Cheltenham, we’re very happy with him,” said De Bromhead.

“The Cheltenham form stood up at Aintree and you had Ayr as well, where Favour And Fortune (sixth in the Supreme) won the Scottish Champion Hurdle. We’re looking forward to Punchestown with him.”

Mystical Power is owned by the powerhouse trio of JP McManus, John Magnier and Rich Ricci and carries the colours of the former.

Jockey Mark Walsh celebrates winning at Aintree aboard Mystical Power
Jockey Mark Walsh celebrates winning at Aintree aboard Mystical Power (Mike Egerton/PA)

“Willie is very happy with him, it’s a competitive race but we’re hoping for a good run,” said McManus’ racing manager Frank Berry.

“Henry’s horse beat him well in Cheltenham, but our horse goes there in good form, so we’ll have a crack at it and hope he runs well.”

Mullins also saddles the Supreme fourth and eighth in Asian Master and Tullyhill, as well as Ile Atlantique and Fun Fun Fun.

Gordon Elliott’s Firefox was third in the Supreme before pushing Mystical Power all the way at Aintree and is in the mix once more.

Firefox in action at Navan
Firefox in action at Navan (Brian Lawless/PA)

Elliott, who also runs King Of Kingsfield, said: “Firefox wasn’t that busy from his maiden hurdle through to Cheltenham, he had just the one run. He progressed from his Cheltenham run to run really well in Aintree.

“King Of Kingsfield is a horse that does like nice ground and was probably undone by the soft ground in Cheltenham. We skipped Aintree on account of the ground, so this is very much a target.”

Tom Mullins-trained outsider Fascile Mode completes the line-up.

The Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase is another competitive affair, with Spillane’s Tower bidding for back-to-back Grade One wins for trainer Jimmy Mangan and owner JP McManus.

Winner of the two-and-a-half-mile WillowWarm Gold Cup at Fairyhouse a month ago, the six-year-old tests the water over an extended three miles and a furlong for the first time on Tuesday.

Mangan said: “He’s only six and his future is ahead of him.

“We went back to two miles and he’s just not effective at two. He’s definitely effective at two-and-a-half and we seem to think he’ll get three. We’ll find it out.

“They always do a good job on the ground in Punchestown but there’s been a lot of drying and we would want a bit of soft in the ground to take our chance, but he’s ready to go if we get that.

“It’s great to be going up there with a good horse.”

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Spillane’s Tower disputes favouritism with De Bromhead’s Monty’s Star, who found only the much-vaunted Fact To File too strong in the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Monty's Star (left) and American Mike at Cheltenham
Monty’s Star (left) and American Mike at Cheltenham (Mike Egerton/PA)

“He seems in good form, we’re happy with him,” said the Knockeen handler.

“It was a tough race in Cheltenham over three miles and you always have the fear of that after, but we’ll give it a go and see. He seems very well.”

Willie Mullins is represented by National Hunt Chase runner-up Embassy Gardens and recent Ayr scorer Sharjah, while Elliott has declared American Mike, Three Card Brag and Salvador Ziggy.

He said: “American Mike just didn’t fire at Cheltenham, but he is a talented horse. He beat Fact To File earlier in the season and showed a really good attitude to win the Ten Up in February. The plan after Cheltenham was to come here and that’s what we’ll do.

“Salvador Ziggy didn’t fire either at Cheltenham. Three Card Brag has had an interrupted season but is a very nice horse, so we’ll let him take his chance too.”

Sandor Clegane from Paul Nolan’s yard also features.

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