Gordon Elliott will be hoping to unearth a genuine Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle contender this weekend as he is responsible for eight of the 14 entries for the Grade 2 Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle which headlines the first meeting of 2019 at Punchestown this Sunday.
This race has previously acted as a notable trial for Cheltenham’s Supreme Novices Hurdle with Douvan and Vautour both winning this race en route to capturing the Cheltenham Festival curtain raiser while the 2016 winner Min went on to chase home Altior on his next start.
Elliott has yet to win this race but is hoping that will change on Sunday although his plans for the weekend have yet to be finalised.
“We’ve made plenty of entries for Sunday’s race and we’ll just see how things go later in the week. It was a pity Commander Of Fleet had to miss the Grade 1 at Naas on Sunday but I’m looking forward to getting him back to the track and he could easily go to Punchestown this weekend.
“I’d say we’ll definitely run a couple in the race and Felix Desjy is another that could go there. Things haven’t worked out for him since he won his maiden hurdle at Galway but I thought his last run in Limerick was more encouraging and there is more to come from him over hurdles,” added the trainer.
Willie Mullins has won five of the last six renewals of this race and his trio of entries are headed by Buildmeupbuttercup who looked a mare with a big future over jumps when she accounted for 28 rivals in a Navan maiden hurdle a month ago.
Meanwhile Jessica Harrington’s challenge is headed by Press Conference who defeated the long time Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle fancy Annamix in a maiden hurdle at Limerick over Christmas.
“Press Conference is in terrific form since his win at Limerick and I would love to run him in the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Hurdle at the weekend but I’m just waiting for some rain to arrive. Jetez will definitely run. We were very pleased with him getting back to winning ways at Leopardstown last time. Jetez might not be a Grade 1 horse yet but he is going that direction,” said Harrington.
Sunday’s card also features the Grade 3 Total Event Rental Novice Chase where the exciting A Plus Tard could bid to make it two wins from three starts since joining Henry de Bromhead. The Cheveley Park Stud-owned French import has had this race as his aim since scoring at Naas last month.
Winter Escape, who gave trainer Aidan Howard the biggest success of his training career when landing a Grade 3 at Cork two months ago, is another likely contender while Gordon Elliott is again well represented with six entries.
“Again we will just wait until later in the week before making up our minds but I’ll certainly run a few here,” commented Elliott. “Things haven’t worked out for Ben Dundee on his last couple of runs but he was a very good winner of his beginner’s chase over this course and distance in November and his performance that day suggested that he had a big future over jumps.
“Of the others Blow By Blow came back to form with a solid run in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown and I’m looking forward to moving Gun Digger up in grade as he’s progressing well with racing and I think he is going to be a much better chaser than a hurdler,” added Elliott.
This race could also attract Jessica Harrington’s Jetz who has contested Grade 1 events on his last two outings. His third to the subsequent Grade 1 winners Le Richebourg and Delta Work in the Drinmore Novice Chase is a particularly strong piece of form.
Harrington added: “Jetz is very well and the intention would be for him to run at Punchestown. The trip and the ground should suit him and we would be hoping that he could repeat the level of form he showed us in the Drinmore.”
Michael Shinners of Sky Bet commented: “We are delighted to sponsor the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle once again at one of Ireland’s premier tracks. This year’s renewal looks sure to have a bearing on the Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle in March.”
A seven race card at Punchestown on Sunday is due off at 12.40pm and also features the Punchestown National for amateur riders. Further details can be found on www.punchestown.com. The ground at Punchestown at entry stage is described as good, good to yielding in places.