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Punchestown Festival preview: AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle (16.25)

Fiscal Focus looks decent value to win a wide open renewal of the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle at Punchestown today (16.25).

The gelding was a smart sort on the level when trained by Jim Bolger, finishing runner-up to Adelaide who has gone on to develop into a very smart sort rated 120 after bagging victories in Group 1 and Grade 1 contests.

Since joining Des McDonogh, the four-year-old has had just two starts over hurdles and looked a very smart prospect when scoring on debut in a Grade 2 contest at Leopardstown.

Fiscal Focus travelled strongly throughout, and after making smooth headway two from home quickened clear to win easing down by two lengths from Kalkir.

It was a most taking performance from a highly regarded sort, and the pair pulled 16 lengths clear of the third to give the form a solid look.

The selection has nothing to fear from the Purssian Eagle, who finished third and re-opposes today, nor Thunder Zone who trailed in a distant fifth.

Fiscal Focus was then pitched into the deep end in the Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle at the same venue back in January, and not surprisingly found it too much and trailed in last of six to Hurricane Fly.

However, the fact that connections decided to let him take his chance in such lofty company suggests they hold the son of Intense Focus in high regard and he has since been given a break to freshen up.

That is a big plus at the end of what has been a long season for the majority of Fiscal Focus’s rivals and, if turning up in the same form as when winning on his debut, he could prove difficult to beat in the hands of in-form jockey Danny Mullins.

Of Fiscal Focus’s rivals, Qualando has a progressive profile and commands the utmost respect.

The gelding represents champion trainer Paul Nicholls and comes into the contest on the back of two successes.

In the last of those, Qualando stayed on strongly to assert near the finish and beat Bouveril by 1 1/2 lengths in the ultra-competitive 22-runner Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The form of the race looks strong, with several who finished in behind having won since, and with the ground ideal and the prospect of further improvement to come Qualando looks sure to make a bold bid to land the hat-trick.