Monday 4pm Cheltenham starts with a roar as the tapes are released for the Grade 1 Supreme Hurdle. Punchestown kicks off with the Kildare Hunt Club Fr Sean Breen Memorial Chase (For the Ladies Perpetual Cup) over three miles and the banks! Don’t let that distract you as this is a high class Festival and many of this seasons highest rated stars are going to achieve that rating in the next five days.
This year’s Festival will be played out to the tune of Willie Mullins versus Gordon Elliott as Mullins tries to claw back close on €400K and retain his coveted title. So cards on the table I’m on at 4/1 that Mullins comes out on top and for a lumpy wager. That will come as no surprise to those that have read my two blogs, “Kevin Blake said don’t do it” on March 30th and “You can’t win anything with kids” on April 3rd.
The latest going reports are “Ground good to yielding (Hurdle, Chase and Bumper). Selective watering to maintain. Good to firm (X Country). Punchestown forecast colder with some showers over the next three days, milder towards the weekend with showers continuing.”
It would seem that the Championship races are going to be contested by single figure fields. Irish owners don’t have a runner for “the day out” but it could accentuate the need to settle and the possibility of false run races. Many of these races are going to be Ruby Walsh and Paul Townend against Bryan Cooper and Jack Kennedy and who gets the fractions right.
So let’s start with Race 2 on the Tuesday and what a cracker that is.
4.20 It’s Labaik (11/4) v Melon (11/8) Round 2. The first two take on each other again after Labaik comfortably beat Melon at Cheltenham where the winner was on his best behaviour. However Labaik refused to race on his three previous Irish starts or as good as damn it and connections suggest that only Labaik knows whether he’ll condescend to jump off although I think the Long Tom played its part at Cheltenham. One has to assume he will go this time but I still think Melon will come out on top. Cheltenham was only his second ‘public’ start and the horse can only improve plus Ruby Walsh will know more about what he’s riding and if Labaik hasn’t picked up Melon by the last I believe Melon will get home this time. The next three in the market were well beaten off in the Supreme and are unlikely to trouble the front two although I expect Cilaos Emery and Bunk Off Early to be ridden cold and try to pick up the maximum place money for Team Mullins.
4.55 In this Class B 2m handicap hurdle Elliott saddles three Veinard, Sanibel Island and the 4yo Dakota Moriviere to the one for Willie Mullins top weight, fit from the AW 10yo Pique Sous. However they may all have to play second fiddle to Tony Martin’s Tudor City who looks primed having had a confidence boosting win recently in a maiden hurdle. His second to Ice Cold Soul in the coral.ie hurdle looks the best recent form on show.
5.30 Back to Grade 1 action and Cheltenham’s 2m 4f RyanAir chase winner Un de Sceaux for Willie Mullins heads the market. The concern will be the drying ground but the fact that the only horse to beat UDS when he has stood up is Sprinter Sacre and UDS is three from three at Punchestown make him a standout selection to me. He has some worthy opponents, Fox Norton was excellent at Aintree but I’m amazed he’s brought back in trip just eighteen days later, surely Potts-hunting at its worst! God’s Own seems a shadow of his former self. Rock the World steps up from handicap company albeit winning Cheltenhams Grand Annual, previous form suggests he’ll struggle but trainer Jessica Harrington can currently walk on water! I think the two most likely to follow UDS home are the Mullins second string, a rejuvenated Ballycasey, who will be ridden to do exactly that and the teak hard Sir Valentino who is so consistent.
6.05 The grade 1 Goffs bumper for horses who have been in their catalogue, mainly bought as stores, and many are seeing a racecourse in a competitive manner for the first time. This seasons Punchestown Festival does have another sub-plot amongst the leading amateur riders with Patrick Mullins trying to catch the Coddfather, Jamie Codd, and like his dad, Willie, keep his title. Patrick teams up here with Joseph O’Brien and JP McManus on Early Doors on whom he won a bumper back in February. That jockey booking leaves Katie Walsh on the Mullins trained representative, Hollowgraphic, suggesting second at best. However the dogs are barking for the recent Point to Point winner Rapid Escape for whom Gigginstown paid £240K and is now trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Jamie Codd. No selection but notebook at the ready.
6.40 The fourth Grade 1 of the day is the seven runner 3m Growise Champion Novice Chase and it’s no surprise Gigginstown own four of them and they are headed by Disko, a favourite of this particular blogger. However two notable absentees in Harry Fry’s American, suggesting the ground is closer to Good than Soft and Bellshill for Willie Mullins which means Gordon Elliott gets a free shot at Championship prize money with A Tio Phil who won the Grade A coral.ie handicap chase and up in trip is currently a 12/1 shot. Disko’s defeat of Our Duke looks outstanding now and like Noel Meade I am delighted to see Disko back at three miles and would love to see his trainer’s high regard for the horse justified here. Acapello Bourgeois and Anibale Fly surely want more juice in the ground, A Genie in the Bottle didn’t get home when fifth and a beaten favourite in Cheltenham’s 4mNH chase and Alpha des Obeaux has that ‘bleeding’ concern. Velocity Boy needs a miracle. Here’s the but, I simply don’t trust Bryan Cooper! Good horseman but inept tactically as a jockey and likes to let the horse do the thinking!
7.15 The card closes with another bumper, this time for maidens. Elliott and Jamie Codd team up with Stooshie and Elliott also saddles Roaring Bull for Gigginstown with Ms Lisa O’Neill in the saddle. No Willie Mullins entries but Philip Hobbs has one for JP, Musical Slave, a gelded son of Getaway with Derek O’Connor riding. Patrick Mullins rides The Butcher Said for his cousin Emmett. Notebook at the ready but no betting medium! I can’t believe Alan Potts has named a horse “Pottsie”!
So how do we punt this card?
Melon 3 star*** win 11/8 WH
Tudor City 2 star** win 11/2 PP
Melon/Un De Sceaux/Disko 2 star** win treble 11/8-10/11-5/4 WH (9.2/1)
Disko 2 star** win 5/4 WH
Total = Nine stars