Last week’s rumours proved accurate as Willie Mullins declared himself unsatisfied with last year’s Champion Hurdle victor, leaving Thousand Stars as the yard’s only hope.
While that horse doesn’t have quite the reputation of his stable mate, he has stepped up on last year’s fine placed efforts and won two Grade Ones in his two most recent starts. While his victory in Auteil was over three miles, he proved he could win over the minimum trip at this level with a polished display in the Morgiana at Punchestown; where the re-opposing Oscar Wells was four-and-a-half lengths back in second.
Willie Mullins’ grey is some 10lbs clear on official ratings, and in truth without the presence of Hurricane Fly this looks to be a fairly average renewal.
Horses like Oscar’s Wells and The Real Article still have some scope for improvement, but it would be a little surprising if either turned out to be a genuine Grade One horse over today’s trip. It’s possible that the latter didn’t quite last out the extra trip in the Hatton’s Grace but after failing to win the Galway Hurdle off a mark of 127 in the summer he looks up against it here.
The former was campaigned at further last term and perhaps doesn’t quite have the speed to win at the top level over two miles.
Perhaps the main danger is Dermot Weld’s four-year-old filly Unaccompanied, who receives 10lbs from her elders.
Her second to Zarkander in the Triumph Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham festival now looks like very smart form given that horses subsequent performances. But despite the fact that she is likely to improve; her reappearance over hurdles in November saw her run only to her current mark so even allowing for a better effort today she should still come up short even on these terms.
Although clearly the price is not much to get excited about, the 11/10 currently available for Thousand Stars is more than fair given the standard of the field; and Ruby Walsh’s mount represents by far the likeliest winner.
Elsewhere on the card, at first glance the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle at 2.30 appears to be a bit of a minefield with 26 runners going to post. While many are exposed horses returning from chasing or simply completely out of form, Edward O’Grady’s Acapulco is one that is certainly well-handicapped.
Formerly with Aidan O’Brien on the flat, the seven-year-old was considered good enough to run in the Derby and the St Leger, and was far from disgraced in the latter finishing only four lengths behind the winner.
Clearly the horse has been difficult to train. There was a gap of a year-and-half between his last flat start and his first run over hurdles, while he was last seen running a very close second in a decent race in Navan 655 days ago. Normally this would off alarm bells and Acapulco would be one of the first horses to write off, but the fact that he has been nibbled at from an opening show of 20/1 last night to as short as 12/1 in places suggests he retains much of his old ability.
While he only won once from five attempts over hurdles, he finished runner-up four times and the form of those races dictates that his mark of 123 could vastly underestimate the son of Galileo provided he is as fit as the money that has come his way suggests.
Thousand Stars 1pt win @ 11/10 generally
Acapulco 1pt win @ 16/1 Bet365, Ladbrokes