Labaik has a history of not starting but he put that all behind him at Cheltenham when winning the Supreme although he is not certain to repeat that performance
GORDON ELLIOTT is keeping his fingers crossed Cheltenham hero Labaik will again put his best foot forward in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown on Tuesday.
Having twice refused to race on the Flat, the grey looked to have been reformed by a switch to the jumping game when winning in impressive style at Punchestown and Navan in the autumn.
However, his old problems resurfaced as he failed to jump off in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse and the Navan Novice Hurdle in December.
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His career looked all but over after he trailed home 100 lengths behind the winner at Naas in February.
But Elliott has never made any secret of the regard in which he holds the six-year-old and he proved his class when running out a brilliant winner of the Supreme at the Cheltenham Festival.
Elliott said: “Everyone knows at this stage, if he jumps off on terms, he has a massive engine, but he has to jump off!
“We didn’t end up doing a whole lot different with him at Cheltenham than we will be doing at Punchestown, as Busty (Amond, assistant trainer) was down there with him and the starter didn’t really need to go near him, he was just on a going day that day.
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“All we can do is hope that he’s on another going day. He seems to be a great form and worked well last Wednesday.”
Labaik faces a rematch with Cheltenham runner-up Melon, one of three contenders for Willie Mullins.
Melon was joint-favourite for the Supreme following an impressive hurdling debut at Leopardstown and Mullins believes he still has scope for improvement.
He told At The Races: “I thought he did everything right in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, he was just beaten by a better one on the day.
“We meet the winner again at Punchestown and while we had no excuse on the day, our fellow hasn’t had much experience over hurdles and might just have learned the game there, so hopefully he can improve a bit.”
Mullins also saddles Cilaos Emery, who was a creditable fifth in Supreme, and Bunk Off Early, who disappointed when well fancied for the Festival curtain-raiser.
There are two challengers from Britain, with Colin Tizzard’s Pingshou appearing to hold much stronger claims than Neil Mulholland-trained outsider Peter The Mayo Man.
Pingshou was well beaten in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but was a dominant winner of the Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree earlier this month.
Tizzard said: “I don’t think there was any fluke about his performance at Aintree – he’s a very good horse.
“He ran all right at Cheltenham, but that was during that spell when some of our horses weren’t really firing and between Cheltenham and Aintree he really blossomed.
“He’s a seven-year-old running over two miles on good ground and I think he’s going there fresh and in good form.”
Jessica Harrington’s mare Forge Meadow completes the field.