We’re entering the final furlong of the jumps season, with the final day of the season less than a week away. At least we get to finish the season with a week of top quality racing at Punchestown and the usual end of season finale in the old Whitbread Gold Cup – I know it’s not been called that for years, but it’s just one of those names that’s stuck.
I take the positives of finishing the season with such a good week of racing but it is also a reminder of what we’ll be missing over the coming months. I know we have summer jumping and some decent meetings still to come, it’s just not the same though.
I also struggle to get too excited about the flat. I will of course follow the flat season and it’s not that all flat racing fails to excite me, there are those big races or meetings that I do genuinely enjoy and look forward to; The Guineas’, The Derby, Royal Ascot and The Arc (and others), but it just doesn’t get me like the jumps does and I just don’t get it like I do the jumps. It’s the average Saturday or lower grade racing during the week, the 2:40 on a Wednesday afternoon at Haydock; I’d be all over it as a handicap chase in January but as a five furlong sprint in July it just doesn’t hold the same sway with me.
But enough of that slight air of negativity and let’s focus on the positives of having some top-class midweek racing coming from Punchestown.
It will be a fascinating edition of the festival with added focus given to the battle for the trainers’ championship between Elliott and Mullins, with both sure to be throwing anything and everything at races in a bid for prize money, which might actually offer a bit of added value to runners from outside of those powerhouses stables.
There will also be some top class battles with Cheltenham winners and losers renewing rivalry, new and returning champions and horses for the future. We’ve had six weeks since Cheltenham, so more than enough time for recovery and it will be interesting to see if any of those who underperformed at The Festival can bounce back under the very different conditions.
I think it’s safe to say, though, that those who ran at both Cheltenham and Aintree will struggle to follow-up here, as it tends to be the case that appearing at all three meetings is just going to the well once too often.
Looking ahead to the opening day of the Punchestown Festival, there are three Grade One races and plenty of quality on offer in the supporting races.
3:40 3m (Bank) Kildare Hunt Club Fr Sean Breen Memorial Chase (For the Ladies Perpetual Cup)
A banks’ race that I have very little insight on. As ever, in a race of this nature I think it’s best to follow the specialists, so with amateur riders taking part over a cross-country course it might be best to side with the Enda Bolger and Derek O’Connor combination of EQUAL STATUS.
4:20 2m½f (2m100y) Herald Champion Novice Hurdle (Grade 1)
The 1-2 from the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham renew rivalry here and although Labaik was a very impressive winner, it may pay to side with MELON to turn it around here. If Labaik jumps off I think he can hold the form but that is a very big ‘if’ and Elliott won’t be able to use the same tools or tactics as they did at Cheltenham, with the ‘long tom’ not allowed in Ireland. Melon ran a big race in the Supreme on only his second start; he’ll surely improve for the experience and is a much safer bet than Labaik.
If Labaik does jump off, he’ll be the one to follow for betting in running.
4:55 2m½f (2m100y) Killashee Handicap Hurdle (Grade B)
VEINARD ran well in the Betfair Hurdle earlier this season and followed-up when second to Thomas Hobson at Fairyhouse last week. He runs off the same mark here and any replication of that form should be good enough to see him go close.
5:30 2m BoyleSports Champion Chase (Grade 1)
The first real big championship race of the week should fall to UN DE SCEAUX who was arguably the most impressive winner of the week at Cheltenham when winning the Ryanair. The drop back in trip shouldn’t inconvenience him, whilst the second favourite Fox Norton looked to improve for the step-up in trip at Aintree and might just fall short with the drop back to two miles. For each way purposes I’ll take a chance on Rock the World; he won well in the Grand Annual, the stable continues to be in brilliant form and he has the benefit of a break those who followed-up at Aintree haven’t had.
6:05 2m Goffs Land Rover Bumper
A tough race to call with the majority not having been seen before. The little we do know seems to suggest it will pay to focus on impressive bumper winner Early Doors or the point winner Rapid Escape, who runs for the Gordon Elliott and Jamie Codd partnership that is usually so effective.
6:40 3m½f (3m120y) Growise Champion Novice Chase (Grade 1)
The final Grade One of the opening day maybe just lacks that little bit of star quality but is a good renewal nonetheless. Acapella Bourgeois is likely to attempt all from the front and could well run them all in to the ground, but I’d be concerned about his ability to do it on the going. DISKO ran well when third in the JLT and the form of that race may well be the strongest of the novice chases at Cheltenham; he could be a level above the rest of this field and should win.
7:15 2m Dooley Insurances Flat Race (4yo)
Another bumper race to close the card with and again a race with very little form to be going off. It’s interesting that Phillip Hobbs sends one over from England in the colours of JP McManus and the booking of Derek O’Connor hints MUSICAL SLAVE should good close.