The opening days of the Punchestown have seen punters treated to fantastic matches in the feature races with Sir Des Champs v Long Run and Sizing Europe v Sprinter Sacre proving just as exciting on the track as they were predicted to be in the betting ring.
Today is no different with another intriguing match on the card: the brilliant mare Quevaga versus Solwhit, the season’s top stayer, in the Ladbrokes.com World Series Hurdle (5.30pm, RTÉ One).
An Irish banker who has delivered at five successive Chelteneham Festivals, sent off the odds-on favourite on the last three occasions, Quevaga will pass into Irish racing folklore when she does eventually retire.
Quevaga has won her last nine races in-a-row, winning three staying hurdles at Punchestown to go along with those Cheltenahm wins.
And her last victory was her most dramatic yet; a barely credible streak up the home straight that saw her make up a mammoth distance on the leaders to snatch victory within strides of the line.
That was in stark contrast to the ‘never in doubt’ victories in previous years.
The story of Solwhit, back racing this season after a lengthy stint off the track due to a leg tendon problem, is almost equally compelling.
The future looked bright when he claimed the scalp of up-and-coming superstar Hurricane Fly in the Irish Champion Hurdle in 2009.
But that race, a four-horse contest on heavy ground, did not prove an accurate guide to the future and Solwhit went on to finish second to Hurricane Fly in a succession of races.
A career as a nearly horses looked to be taking shape.
But Charles Byrnes’ nine-year-old has hit the win trail determinedly since his return, stepping up in trip and collecting the staying hurdles at Cheltenham and Aintree.
Today, he bids to emulate Sprinter Sacre and Istabraq by claiming the rare Cheltenham-Aintree-Punchestown treble.
Remarkably, Solwhit and Quevaga met as five-year-olds in the Rabobank (Irish) Champion Hurdle. Solwhit came out on top on that occasion and the market expects a similar result today.
But the mare is seven pounds better off and it is worth remembering that her last victory in this race was achieved over Voler La Vedette, who had finished a close second to Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham a few weeks prior.
That Quevaga needed a supreme effort to claim the Mares Hurdle she had dominated without fuss in prior years may put even her most ardent supporters off heavy investment.
On the other hand, she gets seven pounds from the boys and on the evidence of her last run will relish every yard of today’s three miles. Her victory in this race last year over Voler La Vedette, who had finished second to the dominant Big Buck’s a few weeks prior, is also worth taking note of.
But Solwhit’s recent exploits at Aintree and Cheltenham mean he will not lack for supporters who believe he will become the third favourite from three to do the business in the feature.