Punchestown Day 1
The National Hunt season in Ireland culminates with an exceptional 5 Day meeting at Punchestown. Day 1 sees the eagerly anticipated clash between Monkfish and Envoi Allen whilst stablemates Chacun Pour Soi and Allaho lock horns in what looks a mouth-watering William Hill Champion Chase.
Top Line Tommy to keep the Blackmore train rolling
A typically competitive handicap hurdle kick starts proceedings and I like the chances of Top Line Tommy 11/1. Rachel Blackmore is clearly an eye-catching jockey booking and this fella appears to be in fine form, having recorded form figures of 16432 on the flat since his last jumps start back in October. He was pulled up that day on soft/heavy ground but gets better conditions here which should be much more to his liking. His run three starts back when finishing fourth to Thosedaysaregone is particularly eye catching. He finished 2 lengths behind him that day conceding 2lbs, which I believe represents a very solid effort given Thosedaysaregone is rated 141 over hurdles. Granted, he is probably not as good on the level, but it would have to give you hope that a mark of 109 for Top Line Tommy is a winnable one. Rachel Blackmore is hunting Paul Townend down in the race to be Champion Jockey, so fingers crossed she get another win here!
The sun may be shining but I’m doing a rain dance
Stable mates, Echoes In Rain 10/11 and Blue Lord clash in the first Grade 1 of the meeting over two miles. Uhtred, Dewcup and Colonel Mustard will have to improve considerably if they are to get involved. As the betting would suggest, we subsequently have a dual! On Official Ratings Echoes In Rain has 7lbs to find with Blue Lord but she does receive 7lbs due to the Mares allowance. Both are entitled to plenty of improvement but come here with slightly different profiles. Blue Lord has had a solid season to date, culminating with a fine performance at Cheltenham before taking a tumble at the last. He’d have been second that day, but I do worry about what effect that Supreme run has left on him. Both Ballyadam and For Pleasure have come out and been well beaten since, both looking like tired horses. Blue Lord has had the extra few weeks rest, but it still represents a concern. Echoes in Rain on the other hand, swerved Cheltenham and instead cruised to victory in a Grade 2 event at Fairyhouse. Interestingly Paul Townend has jumped ship in favour of Blue Lord, but I think he may have chosen wrong. Echoes In Rain is yet to be exposed at the top level and I believe she is open to more improvement. Punchestown has likely been her target and I think she will get the better of her stablemate. Echoes In Rain to lead home a Willie Mullins one two!
Two against the field in classy looking handicap
A high-class field of 25 go to post for a Grade B handicap over 2 miles next. Plenty of these make considerable appeal but two stuck out for me. Magic Tricks 13/2 was highlighted in one of my Saturday Previews a few weeks back where he finished second to Hearts Are Trumps. I believe a mistake at the last might have cost him the race and subsequently believe he is still well treated off a mark just 4lbs higher. As a brother to multiple Grade 1 winner Abacadabras, you’d like to think a mark of 136 is within his reach and the form of his last start has been boosted since with the sixth placed horse, Lignou, winning at Kilbeggan. Magic Tricks appeared to stay on strongly last time out, so I’m hoping Mark Walsh pushes the go button a tad earlier this time.
The other who caught my eye at a bigger price was Joseph O’Brien’s Midnight Run 18/1. He has long been held in high regard by connections and has some eye-catching form to his name. His bumper form reads particularly well with a placed effort behind Envoi Allen and a win over Column Of Fire. He defeated a certain Colreevy on his hurdles debut by nine and a half lengths before disappointing in his next two starts. Sent novice chasing this season, he was well beaten by Asterion Forlonge on his first start but ran a very good against Captain Guinness last time out. That was on the 11th of December so either the horse has had a few setbacks or he has been may have been laid out for this. Considering Jordan Gainford’s 7lb claim he’ll run here off a mark of 133 which could be well within his reach given a few pieces of his standout form.
All aboard the English raider in the big one
The feature race of the day is up next where we have a real cracker on our hands. The Grade 1 William Hill Champion Chase see’s stablemates Chacun Pour Soi and Allaho clash over 2 miles. Allaho was simply outstanding at Cheltenham, destroying a high-class Ryanair field. If he takes to two miles, he has standout claims but I do worry about what effect that Cheltenham effort has had on him and whether he will be as effective over 2 miles. On the other hand, Chacun Pour Soi disappointed at Cheltenham and to my eye didn’t appear to come up the hill. He has strong form at Punchestown and out of the Mullins the duo would be the one I would favour. I will take them both on with Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra 9/2 who finished ahead of Chacun Pour Soi at Cheltenham. He travelled like a very good horse at Cheltenham and didn’t enjoy the smoothest of passages when challenging up the straight. He finished strongly but the line came too soon. That was his first start in an open company Grade 1 and he’s entitled to improve. This will also be just third start of the season, two less than his main market rivals, so he should be the fresher horse. With plenty of pace assured up front, the race should be run to suit. I am hopeful of a big run and maybe a win for the English raider!
Ferny Hollow’s Half Brother can shine
A seriously tricky bumper awaits punters for the fifth race of the day where 18 of the 24 runners are making their race rules debut. In these types of races strong market support can be hard to ignore but on paper I’d like to think Nonbinding 7/2 can go well for his top connections. Jamie Codd takes the ride, which is always a positive, but this lad is bred to be a cut above average. A half-brother to five winners including none other than Ferny Hollow, I would be hopeful of a good run. The 6 horses that have bumper experience haven’t shown a great level of ability so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a newcomer take this.
Envoi Allen to prove he really is the second coming
Just the four runners go to post for the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novices Chase over 3 miles where Monkfish and Envoi Allen collide. Colreevy cannot be forgotten either after a fine win at Cheltenham and this step up in trip looks sure to suit. Whether she can take down the big two is a big question though. This could be one hell of a race and I have decided to go with Envoi Allen 5/4. Monkfish has been awesome this season but arguably put in his least impressive performance at Cheltenham last time out. His jumping was sloppy and he didn’t seem to travel with his usual zest. Both Fiddlerontheroof and The Big Breakaway looked very tired at Aintree and I would just wonder how much Monkfish has left in the tank. Envoi Allen took a tumble at Cheltenham but subsequently will come here nice and fresh without really having had a proper race all season. That was a negative for me at Cheltenham, but I see it as a positive here. I have long been wanting to see him over three miles and would hope he’ll improve for the step up in trip. Rachel takes the reigns and I believe Envoi can take this before a crack at The King George. You know it is the right race for him, Mr De Bromhead!
Follow the obvious in the last two races
The last two races of day are tricky little affairs. I will side with Youcannotbeserious 4/5 in the 7:00 who hasn’t been seen since finishing second in this race back in 2019. He has run well off a big break before though and I’ve no doubt his shrewd connections will have him ready for this.
The last race of the day is another Bumper where I’m sticking with the tried and tested formula of following Team Mullins. Hara Kiri 2/1 represents them here and was well supported on debut but was ultimately well beaten in very testing ground. Connections clearly think he is much better than that and this quicker spring ground could bring about any amount of improvement.
By Sam Rideout
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