We’ve been spoilt with some great racing from Punchestown this week and some gripping finishes in the big races. Even if it was the first time all season I hadn’t backed him it was great to see Unowhatimeanharry return to form and bag another big prize.
We’ve not had such a great time of it on the winners front across the first few days, there have been a few and a good number of places but nothing to get too excited about. To be honest, it’s the usual way with Punchestown, I always seem to struggle for form there; like a half-decent handicapper who has had a few too many starts over the season.
The season finale on Saturday means we are really spoilt for choice with quality racing continuing in Ireland and a good card at Sandown, highlighted by the Whitbread (Bet365) Gold Cup.
Let’s cast our eyes over the action.
Sandown 3:35 3m5f (3m4f166y) bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3) (Class 1)
There are some good races on the undercard with the likely highlight being the match-up between the Arkle and Champion Chase winners Altior and Special Tiara, which Altior should win, but there are plenty of small fields and we’ll leave focus to the big one.
It’s a slightly disappointing turn out with just thirteen runners, which must be one of the smallest fields in this for years. I know it’s been a long season but I can’t understand how there can be complaints about a lack of prize money and then have so few runners when there is decent money on offer.
Doing Fine is the current favourite and would have a good chance, having won well just over a week ago and running off the same mark here. Sugar Baron was well fancied for the Scottish National last week but got no further than the first, so would presumably have a chance here in a smaller and less competitive field providing that mishap hasn’t left any marks. We have two previous winners in Just A Par and The Young Master, whose proven liking of the race and conditions must give them a chance even if towards the top of the weights.
It is a pretty open race so a case could be made for most of the field but the two I’m going to focus on are THE DRUIDS NEPHEW and VYTA DU ROC.
THE DRUIDS NEPHEW has a pretty impressive record in big handicap chases on decent ground, most recently running a good race against potentially well-handicapped horses in the Ultima at Cheltenham. I was a little surprised he missed the National, as he would be good enough to figure there, so I can only presume that this must have been the long term plan. He was fifth in a more competitive renewal of this last year, so has shown he can handle the conditions, but come races of a mark 10lb lower here. He must have a chance of going close.
VYTA DU ROC was one I started following at the start of the season and actually backed for the Hennessey, feeling he had the profile of a Henderson second season chaser who would improve plenty, particularly after his fifth place finish off a mark of 145 in the Scottish National. He finished sixth in the Hennessey without ever threatening to finish closer and has been pretty disappointing since. However, he comes here off a mark 8lb lower than his peak and the form of his Scottish National and Hennessey runs has a strong look to it. He’d need to improve on what we’ve seen this season to figure but I don’t think that would be beyond him.
Punchestown Festival Saturday Picks
2:35 3m (Bank) Dooley Insurances Cross Country Chase
Another cross country chase and a race I don’t really have much of an opinion on. Colour Squadron and Ballyboker Bridge were sixth and seventh at Cheltenham, respectively, and it’ll probably be a toss-up between those two, with slight preference for COLOUR SQUADRON at the current prices.
3:10 3m6f Three.ie Handicap Chase
Again, I don’t have a definitive view on this staying chase. There are some familiar faces lining-up who wouldn’t be without a chance, including Bless The Wings, but I wouldn’t be backing them myself. I’ve long thought Sambremont has a decent enough handicap in him at some point but he’s not really been dropped in the handicap despite only completing one of his last five starts, so I’d be inclined to wait until he drops a few pounds in the handicap. The likely favourite is WHITE ARM for JP McManus and Tony Martin, running off a feather weight with Jack Kennedy on board, and I’d probably go for him.
3:50 2m4f Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders Fund Mares Champion Hurdle (Grade 1)
The Mares Hurdle has a slightly lesser look to it after the news that Annie Power won’t be lining-up. I think that’s the last we’ll see of her given her current condition, which is a shame but let’s just appreciate what a good mare she’s been. In terms of the race itself, APPLE’S JADE should win and I’d pair with Augusta Kate for forecast betting. It’s interesting to see Ruby rides Karalee; that must be a big positive for her but I couldn’t be backing her on the limited amount we’ve seen of her.
4:25 2m AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle (Grade 1)
The Champion Juvenile Hurdle sees a number of those who ran in the Triumph renew rivalry but we won’t be seeing the best four-year-old as Defi Du Seil is finished for the season. Mega Fortune finished second at Cheltenham and he would rank as the best of these but I just wonder if he’d prefer softer going, even if he has won on good and performed so well at Cheltenham on good ground. Bapaume was third in the Triumph after being given a peach of a ride by Ruby and would have a chance in a less competitive field here. However, I’m going with LANDOFHOPEANDGLORY for Joseph O’Brien. He ran a decent race to finish fifth in the Triumph, perhaps not quite getting up the hill, he will find this a little easier and will surely appreciate the better ground more than most.
5:00 3m½f (3m120y) Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase (Grade B)
A competitive looking handicap chase continues the Saturday action with Aintree scorer Sizing Codelco carrying top weight. He wouldn’t be without a chance considering the yard form and the fact that they thought he was so well handicapped prior to his win, but an 11lb rise might just stop him. The Mullins/Walsh duo are on The Crafty Butcher who was being aimed at bigger prizes, so you’d have to respect him. For this race though I’m going down the novice route as there are a few who are likely to be a bit better than their current marks. Marinero disappointed at both festivals but his second place behind Thistlecrack earlier this year does suggest there is potential there, Heron Heights has ran under par the last two times but will appreciate the return to better ground, however, my selection is SANDYMOUNT DUKE for the in-form Jessie Harrington. He has had just the four chase starts, winning twice, he’s likely to appreciate the ground and his third place finish behind Bellshill over hurdles at last years festival suggests he could be better than a mark of 137 if transferring his ability to fences.
5:35 2m4½f (2m4f100y) Ballymore Handicap Hurdle (Grade B)
Another competitive 25 runner handicap hurdle, there’s been a few of these this week and we’ve not really come close to finding a winner in any. With that in mind, I’ll keep this brief. Mullins has eight lining-up, all of whom could have a chance, but Allblak Des Places was spoke of in positive terms before Cheltenham by Patrick Mullins so could be worth a try at a price. Harry Fry always has to be respected, so Air Horse One is in the radar, but I’m taking a chance with PROTEK DES FLOS. He’s not shown a massive amount since winning his first two starts in the UK but I’ve been watching him this season and he looks the sort who will fly under the radar and pop-up at a price at some point, so I’m having a punt on his going day being Saturday.
6:10 2m Attheraces.com (Pro/Am) Flat Race
A bumper I have no real view on. The Shearers Wife could be the one given the record of the Elliott/Codd partnership.
6:40 1m7f 28th Running Punchestown Charity Race
A charity race on the flat. I really do have no view on this, so let’s leave it at that.