The Unibet Morgiana Hurdle is the first Grade One prize of the season over hurdles in Ireland and Britain and boasts a rich roll of honour, most notably illuminated by three-time victor, National Hunt great and 22-times top-level scorer Hurricane Fly.
Klassical Dream is heavy odds-on this weekend and sits at the top of the Unibet Champion Hurdle market at a general 3-1 before his reappearance.
We consider some vital factors before the big race.
This meeting at Punchestown is the traditional starting point for the Willie Mullins winter battalion and it’s fair to say the trainer has a soft spot for this race, landing the past eight renewals.
In the last tenyears, a total of 43 runners have contested the prize, with Mullins represented by 44 per cent of that number. Of his 19 individual runners, 52 per cent have finished either first or second.
It’s also worth mentioning the form of the Mullins string.
While Gordon Elliott sends a big team to Down Royal in early November, Mullins won two of just the three races in which he had runners and saddled a four-timer at Clonmel on Thursday.
He has a 25 per cent strike-rate over jumps in the last week, including Bacardys in the Lismullen Hurdle.
Spotlight on Klassical Dream:
It’s fair to say he looked pretty good last season and his Supreme Novices’ victory looks better the more you watch it.
A keen-going sort, he still finds at the business end and getting up to deny stablemate and last-time out Grade One winner Aramon at the Dublin Racing Festival – on unfavoured quicker ground – was a fantastic effort on just his second start in Ireland.
He was not at his best at Punchestown, but still beat Aintree winner Felix Desjy with ease and Mullins said at a recent press day that he really wants soft ground for Klassical Dream, with potential further improvement on that score. The five-year-old will get those conditions on Saturday.
While a short price, he has to prove himself in senior company on his first start outside the novice ranks.
Nichols Canyon won this in 2015 on his first attempt in open company but was an experienced Flat racer. Hurricane Fly was turned over at 8-13 when taking on his elders for the first time in 2009.
Mullins’ other challengers:
The 13-times champion trainer also saddles Saldier and Sharjah, both Grade One winners.
Saldier still looked a bit green for much of his juvenile campaign but there’s no doubting his engine. He shaped better than his fifth in the Triumph Hurdle and motored away to win well on his final start in juvenile company at Punchestown.
He's seen as potential Champion Hurdle class by connections, and that impression is boosted given he may well have beaten Espoir D’Allen the last time he was seen on a racecourse before coming down at the last.
That reads well and third Mr Adjudicator has franked that form nicely, but you’d just like a bit more substance to his overall profile and more faith in the jumping department.
Sharjah won a strong Galway Hurdle off top-weight last year and rapidly progressed to land the Morgiana and Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown.
He has plenty of gears and the visual impression of his Grade One wins was striking. He looks one that enjoys more of a speed test at two miles than Saldier and while he has form on testing ground, conditions that negate his principal asset of speed look a disadvantage.
Tom Thurgood's big-race verdict:
Our experts give their verdict on Klassical Dream's Supreme win
Despite just five runners, Petit Mouchoir and Yala Fizz are forward goers and Klassical Dream’s jumping is likely to put him in a prominent position sooner rather than later.
Klassical Dream is the youngest in the field, but his excellent jumping looks the most reliable and he looks the most able to deal with the two scenarios of a more steady pace or a truly-run test.
He is very exciting and, although he has more to prove here than his price suggests, it would be more disappointing than not if he falls short on his reappearance and fails to extend his unbeaten record for Mullins.
In the event the pace is steadier than anticipated, Sharjah is fancied to take second from Saldier.
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