Day Two faired a little better for us with a couple of winners and places but not at any sort of prices to be retiring just yet. The biggest disappointment of the day was the fourth place finish of Peoples Park; Sizing Granite won well in the end but Peoples Park didn’t jump well at all which definitely cost the chance of finishing a lot closer than he did.
On to day three at Punchestown and another eight races to pick from.
3:40 2m4f KFM Hunters Chase
Those who complain about the likes of the Ryanair or Mares hurdle diluting the quality of the Cheltenham Festival need look no further than this to see they might just be overreacting slightly. A race of the poorest quality, I have no real view on this. If I had to have a bet, well, ENNISKILLEN won over the banks on the opening day of the festival and has Jamie Codd on board so looks the one to be with.
4:20 2m5f EMS Copiers Novice Handicap Chase (Grade A)
This race is much more like it and is the first to pay any real attention to on the day with a decent field lining-up for a handicap chase. There are plenty of contenders with a strong chance here. Le Prezien went off as favourite for the Grand Annual but got a little outpaced and could only finish eighth so the step up in trip could bring improvement, Balko Des Flos has been running in a higher grade all season so could improve for the drop in class, Woodland Opera won impressively last time out and the Mullins horses could be better than they have shown. However, I am going to keep the faith with DIAMOND KING who was supposedly the handicap cert of the week at Cheltenham but was pulled-up after making a mistake early on. I was of the view that he was well handicapped and running here off a mark 4lbs lower (146) than he did at Cheltenham (150), I still think that could be the case and he will surely prefer the ground here compared to what he faced through the winter.
4:55 2m5f Hanlon Concrete European Breeders Fund Glencarraig Lady Mares Handicap Chase (Grade B)
A Mares Handicap Chase won’t exactly be top of the list for most people but races like this are a good thing for the sport. In terms of selection, I don’t have a particularly strong view on this race. Jessie Harrington has a few entered who have shown decent form at some stage so should be noted given stable form, Slowmotion won well enough last time out and Retour En France could be better than we’ve previously seen. It’s interesting to see that Anthony Honeyball has brought CRESSWELL BREEZE over and her fifth place finish in the Haydock National Trial looks okay given she probably didn’t get the trip, so she’d be the each way selection.
5:30 2m BETDAQ Punchestown Champion Hurdle (Grade 1)
Much like the elite hurdling division has appeared for much of the year, this doesn’t look to have the out and out superstar in the line-up, but still looks interesting nonetheless. The current favourite is perennial Cheltenham bridesmaid My Tent Or Yours who again put in a brilliant performance at the Festival to finish second and I think most would love to see him win one like this but I fear he’ll always find one too good or who has improved. Willie Mullins fires a number of darts at this with Arctic Fire, returning to Grade One company after a superb win in the County Hurdle off top-weight, and Vroum Vroum Mag, getting her chance as number one in a championship race, the main contenders. They are both obvious choices, as is Petit Mouchoir who finished a good third in the Champion Hurdle.
I’ll take a chance with BRAIN POWER though. I’ve a feeling he might not act around Cheltenham and the form suggests he’s better right-handed, so I’m willing to forgive his disappointing run in the Champion Hurdle and take a chance on him continuing the improvement we saw earlier this year. Labaik lines-up again and could be anything if he ever started, but I’d be wary of even taking the current 10/1 on him getting past the starting line.
6:05 2m4f Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle (Grade 1)
Another Grade One to feast your eyes on and this looks like being a very competitive race full of quality. Let’s Dance is the only Cheltenham Festival winner in the line-up and has looked brilliant at times but was beaten last time out; I think she’s better than that but might just fall short here. Finians Oscar was very impressive at Aintree and will be a force over fences next season, Bacardys can be forgiven for his poor show at Cheltenham given that he was badly hampered and it’s interesting to see that they step Death Duty down in trip, he looked the best novice through the winter and could step-up again but he’s had a tough season and might not be at his best here.
The supposed Willie Mullins second strings have been running well so far this week and I’ll take a chance on another continuing that trend with BLEU BERRY. He’ll need to improve to figure but comes here relatively fresh given the company he has been keeping and has looked good when winning, so he’s worth an each way bet to improve past others who may just be ready for a holiday after tough seasons.
6:40 3m½f (3m120y) Star Best For Racing Coverage Champion Hunters Chase
ON THE FRINGE goes for an historic sixth win at the festival and despite failing to win in the other two big festival hunter chases, I think he’ll have enough to win here. He has excuses the last two times and although he might not quite be the force he once was I think we’ve seen enough to suggest he’s still at a level to win this.
Looking for an each way angle, I see an old favourite of mine is running. Sir Des Champs was once top class and I didn’t expect to see him running in races like this when he finished second in the Gold Cup; he’s run in a number of points and failed to get his head in front and I doubt it’ll be different here. Home Farm also ran in a Gold Cup, although never reaching the heights of Sir Des Champs, and has won a point this year, but Balnaslow looks the best each way angle having performed well at both Aintree and Cheltenham.
7:10 2m Donohue Marquees Novice Hurdle
This two mile novice hurdle has a number of contenders who looked better than this level at some point this season and will be looking to finally fulfil some of that promise. There are a number with chances here, including Veinard who was a selection of ours on opening day, but I’m taking a punt on the return to better going bringing about an improvement in CHATEAU CONTI. He looked very promising earlier this season and sat towards the head of the betting for the Supreme at one point but he disappointed when stepped up in class. Although he won on soft on debut for Willie Mullins, his form in France was on better going and if he can run anywhere near his top RPR of 140 (best in the field) he should go close.
7:45 2m2f GVA Donal O’Buachalla Property Advisors Flat Race
We close the card with a bumper that it’s hard to be too enthused with. Greco Romain hasn’t run for well over a year but did finish second to the classy Sutton Place on his only start, while the usual Elliott/Codd partnership must be respected with Its All Guesswork. WARTHOG looks the one for me though, his form in Britain is good enough and David Pipe usually sends over a decent one for a bumper here, so for those reasons he’s the selection.