Wednesday 2.30pm Thursday looks the quietest day of the Punchestown Festival with just the two Grade 1’s, the Stayers hurdle and the 2m novices chase, but three handicaps and the La Touche Cup over the banks.
Willie Mullins has done well to reduce the gap to Elliott from €400K to €260K and they now bet Elliott 1/3 Mullins 11/4 although Paddy Power who have had this market to themselves up until yesterday bet 1/3 v just 2/1. My forecast was 9/10 the pair Wednesday evening so come on Djakadam, Penhill or both! The Grade 1 bumper could have a big say in the outcome of the trainer’s title and Closutton need a big run from Carter McKay, he needs to beat at least one of the Elliott pair of Poli Roi and Fayonagh.
That represents a fine effort from Mullins as both Melon (mugged) and Un de Sceaux (flat) were beaten. The prize money is in the Grade 1’s and Willie Mullins is going mob handed at these and I wouldn’t put anyone off taking the 11/4 currently on offer with Coral.
I am going to review the Punchestown Festival as a whole at the beginning of next week along with Saturdays Whitbread card. For Thursday I am just concentrating on the two Grade 1’s and the 3m handicap hurdle.
5.30 The Grade 1 stayers hurdle looks a race with some real depth to it with the first three at the Cheltenham festival, Nicholls Canyon, Lil Rockefeller and Unowhatimeanharry, all lining up and I would be hard pressed to make a case for the finishing order to be different this time although once again Ruby Walsh will need to be at his tactical sharpest again and with no Cole Harden it wouldn’t surprise me if he tried to make every yard bossing the race from the front. Plenty of dangers if they ran to their very best such as Snow Falcon, Shaneshill, One Track Mind and Clondaw Warrior but there are two new guests to the party. Sutton Place was impressive when beating subsequent Coral Cup winner Supasundae over 2m and won as he liked from De Plotting Shed over 2m 4f and steps up to 3m for the first time here. However I just don’t think this race was the plan. They talked about novice chasing originally, then it was the Betfair hurdle, then possibly supplementing for the Champion hurdle, now he runs in the Stayers at Punchestown. For Elliott I think this is hope above expectation.
The other newbie is FOOTPAD for Willie Mullins and this trip is just about a mile further than he has raced competitively outside of Auteuil. However he has run well in a host of Grade 1’s over 2m and more than once has shaped as though further would really suit. At 20/1 with BetFred he looks a knocking each way bet to me.
6.05 Just like on Wednesday I am with a JP McManus horse and yet another trained in England. This time it’s NO COMMENT with Richard Johnson on board and I think he is the ideal jockey for this horse with his ground saving, creepy creepy style. No Comment was seventh in that hard to gauge Martin Pipe at Cheltenham and it would be reasonably safe to say he could see all the field for most of the race and gave up the outside to no one turning for home. He arrived to challenge two out swinging but probably made up too much ground too quickly and had nothing for the hill. No Comment beat Monalee in a bumper at this meeting last year and I expect they had hoped to return for a grade 1 but this horse could be well in here off just OR136.
6.40 This isn’t an easy race to weigh up. The Cheltenham Arkle winner Altior is head and shoulders above the rest of the 2m novice chasers and although he goes to Sandown on Saturday to take on the big boys his Arkle form is represented by Ordinary World who inherited third at Cheltenham. Is that good enough? JP McManus hopes not as he runs two. Great Field trained by Willie Mullins is unbeaten in three and looks a natural having struck up a partnership with Jody McGarvey. This is however their biggest test to date. When he stood up BallyOisin looked something special but he has only managed that once in three chasing starts. The Ricci’s have the improving Townshend with Ruby Walsh on board and I fancied them for the novice handicap but I’m not sure Townshend is ready for a Grade 1. Mullins also saddles the talented mare Listen Dear, getting a 7lb allowance, but her last run suggested that having been on the go since last June she had had enough for now. Gordon Elliott has Ball D’Arc who followed Road to Respect and Yorkhill home at Fairyhouse in their Grade 1 over 2m 4f.
I think the bet has to be Ordinary World each way and Davy Russell getting at worst another G1 place for this consistent if not brilliant horse.
So how do we punt this card?
Footpad 2 star** each way 20/1 BetFred 123 1/5th
No Comment 2 star** each way 8/1 Coral + Lad 12345 1/5th
Ordinary World 1 star* each way 15/2 Coral + Lad 123 1/5th
Total = Ten stars