Punchestown Day 5
An unbelievable week of jumps racing concludes on Day 5 of the Punchestown Festival. The Grade 1 Coolmore Kew Gardens Irish EBF Mares Champion Hurdle features alongside the Grade 1 Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle. Willie Mullins has been in scintillating form this week and has another strong assault across the card, but his former inmate, Laurina, is arguably the most interesting runner of the day. It has been a typically tricky punting week, but the previews have landed a couple of nice winners. Surprise Package was a clear highlight of the week having been selected at 33/1, closely followed by El Barra who was put up at 14/1. From a personal point of view, my highlight of the week was seeing Honeysuckle grind out another big win to keep her unbeaten record intact. What a superstar she is!
Course specialist can get day 5 off to the perfect start
The first race of the day is the Dooley Insurance Group Cross Country Chase over 3 miles and 1 furlong. Some real stalwarts of the game are set to line up here including the likes of Josies Orders, Stand Up And Fight, Alpha Des Obeaux and my fancy for the race, Neverushacon 11/4. The Harington inmate loves it around Punchestown having recorded lifetime form figures at the track of 443F2211 with the two victories coming in 2020. He hasn’t been in great form but showed signs of a revival last time out when staying on for fourth over 2 miles and 4 furlongs. This step back up in trip will be much more to his liking and he has winning form around the cross-country track. With the quicker ground also likely to suit, I’m hopeful he can run a big race and get us off to the perfect start.
Regal Encore can raid successfully for McManus and Honeyball
Next up on the card is the Colm Quinn BMW Group Handicap Chase over 3 miles and 7 furlongs. Freewheelin Dylan stunned the racing world when winning the Irish Grand National at 150/1. He did so in commanding fashion, and I think he will prove that was no fluke by going well here off a mark 8lbs higher. I am going to take him on with Regal Encore 8/1 who is 13 now but has still shown he retains plenty of his old ability. His better runs in recent times have come at Ascot which is clearly a course he thrives around, but he also has some very decent runs at Punchestown recording form figures of 822 at the track in big field handicaps. Simon Torrens takes a handy 3lbs off and I’d like to think he’s been showing all the right signs at home to make the journey across. Hopefully he can run a big race and potentially cap off an extremely good career with a well-deserved festival win.
Concertista can make amends for Cheltenham defeat
The first of two Grade 1’s on the day is the Mares Champion Hurdle over 2 miles and 4 furlongs. Laurina is the surprise runner in a field of 9 having come out of retirement for new trainer, C W J Farrell. It is hard to know what to expect from her after issues with burst blood vessels, but I for one, would love to see her run a big race. 2020 Triumph Hurdle winner, Burning Victory, is another interesting contender having not been seen since her victory at Cheltenham. The lengthy absence would clearly be a concern, but Willie has already worked his magic on Klassical Dream after a 487-day break so I wouldn’t put it past him to repeat the feat here. That being said, I’m gong to side with Concertista 6/5 who has had a very good season to date. Officially Rated 153, she finds herself 5lbs clear on Official Ratings and was chinned late on by Black Tears at Cheltenham. I think she hit the front too soon that day and I’m hoping Patrick will adopt late pouncing tactics here. The return to better ground should help her see out the trip a little better and I think she’ll be hard to beat. Skyace brings the novice form into play and her form received a timely boost when Gauloise bolted up on Day 3 of the festival. She’s into open company here though and will need to improve again. The rejuvenated Stormy Ireland could be dangerous if she gets loose on the front end.
Mighty Mullins can land another Grade 1
A high-quality field of nine go to post for the Ballymore Champion Four Year Old Hurdle and they are headed by this year’s Triumph Hurdle Quilixios. He was a ready winner at Cheltenham and looks a hot prospect for fences in time. He is a short price though and at those odds, his trainers slightly poor form would be a concern. Zanahiyr was one of the big disappointments of the week at Cheltenham but would be a big danger if bouncing back to his brilliant early season form. The first time tongue at Cheltenham was slightly worrying and it could be he’s had a few issues. Haut En Couleaurs 11/4 was just over 3 lengths behind Quilixios at Cheltenham but that was on his first start for the yard, and he could be open to considerable improvement. He travelled like a dream at Cheltenham and it is possible he just lacked match practice when it got down to the business end of the race. In contrast to Quilixios, Haut En Couleaurs trainer, Willie Mullins, is in red hot form operating at a 30% strike rate at the time of writing. With little to find on their Cheltenham form, it may well be trainer form plays a part in this.
Myth Buster can cap a wonderful season for trainer Henry De Bromhead
A good field of 20 go to post for the Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase over 3 miles. The handicaps this week have been extremely difficult to solve, and this is no exception. Sam Brown is an interesting runner for English and Ten Ten could go well having refused to race in a somewhat interesting start on Wednesday. I will take a chance on Henry De Bromhead’s Myth Buster 14/1 who has some eye-catching form to his name this season. He finally got off the mark at the fifteenth time of asking on his last start when he defeated Top Moon, keeping on for pressure well late on. Top Moon has some solid form to his name against the likes of The Shunter and Entoucas. He also ran a good race when finishing seventh here on Thursday. Another form line I like involving Myth Buster is his run at Leopardstown at Christmas. He finished fifth that day but was in behind the likes of Farclas and Minella Times. Farclas went on to finish second at the Cheltenham Festival whilst the latter went and won the Aintree Grand National! Both the 3-mile trip and yielding ground should really suit, so I’m hopeful Myth Buster can outrun his current odds of 14/1. As touched upon before, my one area of concern would be Henrys current form.
McManus pair the play in extremely good-looking Handicap Hurdle
The Shunter 6/1 has been one of the stories of the season winning 5 times since September and earning a huge amount of prize money. He currently sits close to the top of the betting for the BARONERACING.COM Handicap Hurdle over the intermediate trip. After winning the Paddy Power Plate at the Cheltenham Festival he went on place second for his new owner, JP McManus, in a Grade 1 Novices Chase at Aintree making a whole host of jumping errors in the process. He clearly possesses a huge amount of ability and reverts back to hurdles on a mark 9lb lower than his chasing one. I believe he is better than his current chasing rating suggests, so that would put him extremely well in now back over the smaller obstacles. Both the trip and ground look fine for him, it is whether this is one run too many. He has had a long tough season and I would just wonder how much is left in the tank. That being said, 6/1 is very backable price and he does strike me as a horse who thrives on his racing. Fingers crossed he has got plenty of petrol left, he is going to need it!
At a much bigger price, I did also like the claims of another JP McManus runner, Drop The Ancher 18/1 who was a good winner at The Dublin Racing Festival before staying on for seventh in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham. That County Hurdle form is looking rock solid as the winner, Belfast Banter, has bolted up in a Grade 1 at Aintree and the third placed horse, Milkwood, came out and won the Scottish Champion Hurdle. Drop The Anchor does have question marks about his stamina at the trip but I liked the way he stayed on at Cheltenham and he may well see out the trip better now he is slightly older than when last giving it a go.
Blackmore and Poppins can combine for a winner in the penultimate race of the Festival
The penultimate race of the Punchestown Festival is a tricky looking Mares Handicap Hurdle over 2 miles and 4 furlongs. First reserve, Millyinthemiddle, could be a tough nut to crack if she is to get in having finished a close third to Pertemps Hurdle winner Mrs Milner on her last start. There are no guarantees she’ll get in though and she would have a lengthy absence to overcome. I have decided to take a chance on Merry Poppins 10/1 who has snuck in at the very bottom of the weights. She has been slightly disappointing since a good win on debut back in August but caught my eye last time out when running over three miles. Her three prior starts to that had come over 2 miles so it was interesting to see connections step her up a whole mile in trip. She travelled well for a long way before appearing not to stay. As a result, this drop back to 2 miles and 4 furlongs could really suit. With the services of Rachel Blackmore booked, I would be hopeful of a good run.
Cheveley Park could have another rocket on their hands in the lucky last
The Punchestown Festival comes to an end with a bumper over 2 miles. Willie and Patrick Mullins have had an unbelievable week and the father and son team are represented by Willie The Coo here. He is a full brother to Panic Attack who won a Market Rasen Bumper for the yard a couple of seasons ago in a very stylish manner. With the yard striking at 38% in bumpers this season, it would be no surprise to see him win, but I am going to side with Guily Billy 11/8. Bought for £310,000 by his powerful connections, Guily Billy warrants plenty of respect, especially given the style in which he won his Point To Point. It’s hard to tell what that form is worth, but he put in a visually impressive performance. These bumpers can often be tough to call but Henry De Bromhead’s inmate gets the tentative vote.
By Sam Rideout
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