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Punchestown Festival preview: Irish Champion Chase (17.30)

The Grade 1 Irish Champion Chase is today’s feature contest at the Punchestown Festival (17.30), and the progressive Felix Yonger looks decent value to win a wide open looking renewal of the 2m contest.

This nine-year-old is one of three in the race trained by Willie Mullins, and is a very smart chaser who comes into the contest in terrific shape having won his last three starts.

In the last of those, Felix Yonger overcame a last fence blunder to dig deep and find plenty to beat Argocat in a Grade 2 affair at Navan.

Prior to that, the gelding had shown a good attitude to beat Mallowney at Cork before easily landing a hurdle contest at Leopardstown.

There is no reason why Mallowney, who is now 6lb worse off with Felix Yonger, should reverse the placings and the selection looks to have been saved for this having bypassed Cheltenham and Aintree.

Another plus is that Felix Yonger has winning form over course and distance and, with underfoot conditions holding no fears, the son of Oscar looks to have plenty going for him.

Jockey Ruby Walsh has chosen to partner Felix Yonger’s more fancied stable companion Champagnhe Fever, who is top class on his day but needs to bounce back from a very disappointing effort last time out at Aintree.

The eight-year-old put in a very lacklustre effort to finish a well beaten 32 length fourth of 10 to Don Cossack in the Melling Chase over 2m 4f and now drops back to 2m.

Connections have tried Champagne Fever over a variety of trips this season, including over 3m in the King George, and to me it doesn’t seem to be helping the gelding.

For that reason I am keen to oppose, and the biggest danger to Felix Yonger may well prove to be Hidden Cyclone.

The 10-year-old is a very smart sort who found only Dynaste to good when going down by 2 1/4 lengths in the 2013 running of the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, and looked better than ever when easily winning the Tied Cottage Chase over course and distance two starts back by five lengths from Bright New Dawn.

Hidden Cyclone then disappointed when just sixth of 14 to Uxizandre in this year’s renewal of the 2m 5f Ryanair Chase, but the drop back to 2m looks sure to suit and connections are now fitting him with the blinkers for the first time.

If the headgear has the desired effect, I can see Hidden Cyclone running a huge race for popular trainer Shark Hanlon.