The Punchestown Festival is up and running and day two features three Grade One races, with the Punchestown Gold Cup the obvious highlight.
Our selections for day two are made before racing has started on the opening day so we can’t see how our selections have fared quite yet and we’ll be working a day behind on reviewing picks.
Punchestown Day Two Picks
3:40 2m5f Martinstown Opportunity Series Final Handicap Hurdle
A 25-runner handicap hurdle for conditional jockeys doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence of picking a winner, but I’ll have a stab at it nonetheless. As with most races of this nature, I think it’s probably best to go down the route of backing the jockeys rather than necessarily the horse, there is of course the chance of one lurking in the handicap or a lesser seen jockey throwing a spanner in the works but I’ll stick with the approach. The ones that interest me are Drumcliff, Going For Broke, Crossed My Mind and Groundunderrepair, with the Arthur Moore trained CROSSED MY MIND the pick. This is only his fourth start so there could still be plenty left in terms of improvement and in Donagh Meyler has one of the best conditionals on top for assistance.
4:20 2m4f Louis Fitzgerald Hotel Hurdle
This could be an intriguing race with many in the field having questions to answer but with potential to bounce back with a change in conditions. Battleford went off as favourite for the Martin Pipe Hurdle at Cheltenham but could only finish eighth and he hasn’t quite been able to live-up to expectations from his bumper form, but he should find this a little easier. C’est Jersey and Baden have also had expectations lowered after running in the Albert Bartlett so should find this easier, whilst Milsean has his first run for Gordon Elliott and also drops in class so wouldn’t be without a chance.
MINELLA TILL DAWN, however, is our selection. He was running a very good race when falling at the last on his last start and I think he might just be better than the form he has shown so far. The others in the field have often disappointed and I’d prefer to take a chance on this one who maybe hasn’t had the opportunity to show his best yet.
4:55 3m Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle (Grade 1)
There are three Cheltenham Festival winners in the line-up with Albert Bartlett scorer Penhill taking on Presenting Percy (Pertemps Hurdle) and Champagne Classic (Martin Pipe Hurdle). Although relatively unfancied Penhill was a very impressive winner and drew clear of Monalee and the field with something in hand and it would be hard to see the form being reversed, particularly with the going likely to be much more in the favour of Penhill. If any of the Cheltenham winners are able to take on Penhill it is more likely to be Presenting Percy who won in the manner of a horse who is much better than a handicapper, whilst Champagne Classic is likely to find it tough here.
At the head of the market Penhill looks the more likely winner, however, I am going to take a chance on one we’ve not seen much of and plump for AL BOUM PHOTO. He’s just had the three runs for Willie Mullins and after being beaten as favourite first time has won easily the last twice. He will need to step-up massively to stand a chance but the manner in which he won last time out suggested he does have potential class and at the prices offers a bit of each way value.
5:30 3m½f (3m120y) Coral Punchestown Gold Cup (Chase) (Grade 1)
The highlight of the day is the Punchestown Gold Cup featuring a small but classy field, with new Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John taking on former champion Coneygree, as well as other top class horses. Coneygree comes here off the back of just two runs since his brilliant win in the Gold cup two years ago and it will be difficult to win off the back of his recent troubles, with the second place to Cue Card earlier this season arguably not as good as it first seemed, with that rival arguably regressing. Whilst it will be interesting to see how he and Champagne West cope with taking each other on for the lead. Champagne West was fancied in quarters at Cheltenham but was beaten a long way from home; he will surely try to front-run here again and could upset the rhythm of Coneygree, but it’s hard to see him being good enough to win
A more convincing case can be made for Djakadam who just doesn’t get home over the Cheltenham Gold Cup trip and will be much better suited to conditions here, whilst Outlander, who was very disappointing in the Gold Cup, just doesn’t seem to act at Cheltenham and could easily return to form here.
However, our selection is with SIZING JOHN. In the shadow of Douvan for so long during his novice campaigns he has shown what a top-class horse he is after stepping up in trip. There were doubts about his ability to handle the step-up to the Gold Cup trip at Cheltenham but he handled it perfectly and was a really impressive winner. However, with his two mile speed, this slightly easier trip could see him in an even better light and I think he’ll just have too much pace and be too good for his rivals here. He looks the real deal from what we’ve seen.
6:05 2m Racing Post Champion I.N.H. Flat Race (Mares & Geldings) (Grade 1)
Only seven runners line-up for the Champion Bumper which could make it a more tactical affair than we saw at Cheltenham, with the winner from that lining-up again here. FAYONAGH was a brilliant winner at Cheltenham, storming up the hill having missed the start, and will be tough to beat here. Carter Mackay disappointed in the same race so will need to return to the good form he previously showed, whilst Poli Roli and Someday both missed Cheltenham and could offer a bigger threat to the favourite, coming here fresh and having won impressively on previous starts.
6:40 2m4f Guinness Handicap Chase (Grade A)
A fourteen runner handicap chase with no real stand-out contender, as far as I can see, makes this a typically tough handicap for the meeting. The most interesting contender has to be Polidam for the Walsh/Mullins combination. It will be his first run in Ireland having shown a decent level of form in France and a run close to that perceived form level would be good enough to go close, however, it’s difficult to say if he’ll take to Irish racing and backing him first time out would require a certain amount of blind faith.
Colin Tizzard sends two in the Potts’ colours and Sizing Granite looks to be the first choice with Robbie Power on top. He looked a decent novice a couple of years back but has failed to show much since and would need a return to the promise shown to have a chance, however, he has dropped enough in the handicap to think that wouldn’t be impossible.
A number of others would have a chance, including Rightdownthemiddle and Jetstream Jack for Gordon Elliott, but I’m going to go for the one lurking at the bottom PEOPLES PARK. He’s not shown a great deal on his last few starts but he has had some support, so I’m hoping the drop in the handicap and the return to the likely better going will give him a chance to run a nice race off a feather weight.
7:15 2m Weatherbys General Stud Book European Breeders Fund Mares Flat Race (Grade 3)
The Mares bumper closes the action for the day and I have to admit it’s not a race that I really have a great deal of interest in. The Mullins horse Mystic Theatre is bound to be near the head of the market but she was beaten in good style by BLUEGRASS PRINCESS last time out, so I am going to select the latter who may appreciate the likely quicker going being out of Choisir. Jessie Harrington has two interesting unraced mares lining-up who it is definitely worth keeping an eye on, with Nicandra a half-sister to Bobs Worth and The Princetonian a full sister to Rock On Ruby.