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Connell feels ‘conditions will be ideal’ for William Munny

Connell feels ‘conditions will be ideal’ for William Munny
Connell feels ‘conditions will be ideal’ for William Munny

Barry Connell expects William Munny to make his presence felt when he takes on the powerhouse stables of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott in the Race & Stay At Punchestown Champion I.N.H. Flat Race.

Mullins has unsurprisingly dominated this Grade One contest in recent seasons, saddling seven of the last 10 winners, and this year’s six-strong team is headed by Champion Bumper hero Jasmin De Vaux.

Elliott saddles the second and sixth from Cheltenham in Romeo Coolio and The Yellow Clay – but in William Munny Connell believes he possesses the potential fly in the ointment.

The Westerner gelding is two from two in the bumper sphere, following up a narrow debut win at Navan with a visually striking display at Naas, after which his owner and trainer said: “In my view, he’s the best bumper horse in the country and I’m hoping he’ll be a Grade One horse over a hurdle next year.”

His overall form has not worked out as well as hoped, with the runner-up from both races subsequently well beaten, but Connell has not lost any faith in his charge and having kept his powder dry for Punchestown, he is anticipating a bold showing in County Kildare.

Connell said: “We weren’t going to go to Cheltenham with him, so we gave him a month off out in the field and a nice break to freshen him up and he’s in great form.

“He did his last piece of work on Saturday and he’s certainly in as good a form as he was going to Naas, so we couldn’t be happier with him.

“He’s second or third favourite for the race on Wednesday and who knows what would have happened if he’d gone over to Cheltenham? I think he’s definitely up in the top one or two (bumper horses) and I wouldn’t swap him for anything else in the race.

“He has all the attributes and his improvement from the first day to the second day was pretty incredible. He seemed to slog it out the first day and win dirty and then in Naas he was completely different – he cruised into the race and quickened up like a good Flat horse.

“I think in Punchestown, tactical speed is important, it’s not like Naas, Navan and Cheltenham, where you’ve a long straight and a hill and a galloper will win, you need a bit of tactical speed and I think the conditions will be ideal for him, so we’d be optimistic of a very big run.”

The Emmet Mullins-trained Harbour Highway and Tom Cooper’s Shuttle Diplomacy also bring unbeaten records to a competitive heat.

Stellar Story (left) on his way to beating The Jukebox Man at Cheltenham
Stellar Story (left) on his way to beating The Jukebox Man at Cheltenham (David Davies/The Jockey Club)

Stellar Story gets the opportunity to prove his surprise Cheltenham Festival success was no fluke in the Channor Real Estate Group Novice Hurdle.

The Gigginstown House Stud-owned seven-year-old was a 33-1 outsider for the Albert Bartlett in mid-March, but belied those odds by storming up the hill to collar The Jukebox Man in a thrilling finish.

The Jukebox Man did the form no harm by finishing second again in another Grade One at Aintree and Stellar Story’s trainer Elliott is hopeful of another bold showing from his charge on Wednesday.

“Stellar Story came out of Cheltenham in good shape. The plan then was to come here and he is very much on the ticket,” he said.

“He always looked like he’d make into a good staying novice. While he didn’t run up to his best at the Dublin Racing Festival, at Cheltenham he showed what he was capable of.”

Jockey Danny Gilligan celebrates on Better Days Ahead at Cheltenham
Jockey Danny Gilligan celebrates on Better Days Ahead at Cheltenham (David Davies/The Jockey Club)

The Cullentra handler saddles a second Cheltenham hero in the form of Better Days Ahead, winner of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle at Prestbury Park.

Elliott added: “Better Days Ahead is pretty versatile trip-wise. He won the Martin Pipe over two-and-a-half but has very good form at two miles as well.”

Willie Mullins unsurprisingly possesses a strong hand too, with Dancing City, Lecky Watson, High Class Hero and Cuta Des As all in contention.

Dancing City appears the stable’s first string, with his third-place finish behind Stellar Story at Cheltenham sandwiching Grade One wins at Leopardstown and Aintree, where he had five and a half lengths to spare over The Jukebox Man.

Cork bumper winner Backmersackme is a fascinating contender for Emmet Mullins, making his hurdling debut in a Grade One, with Henry de Bromhead’s An Tobar completing the field.

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