This year’s Punchestown Festival is set up nicely with trainers Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins going head-to-head again in a bid to be crowned this season’s champion trainer. As a result both stables will have a huge number of runners and are set to unleash most of their leading horses.
With short-priced favourites in a large majority of the Grade 1 festival races, I have taken a closer look at some of the hotpots set to line up this week and discuss whether I see them as potential winners or losers.
The Willie Mullins-trained Getabird is set to take his chance in the Champion Novice Hurdle on the back of a 12-length victory in a Grade 2 at Fairyhouse earlier this month. Having been hugely disappointing at the Cheltenham Festival prior to that effort, it is hard to get a handle on the level of form that the six-year-old has achieved. Currently rated 152, he leads the field on figures and if showing up here in similar form to the last day it is possible he will take the beating.
Having been far too keen on the way to the start at Cheltenham, he settled much better at Fairyhouse and will need to do so again this week if he is to record back-to back wins.
Paul Townend will fancy his chances but with the ground currently yielding and with dry weather forecast for the opening day of the festival, there will be questions on whether he will be as effective in the these conditions. The return to a right-handed track will be in his favour but his price is short enough. Of the remainder of the field Paloma Blue for Henry De Bromhead looks to represent some value with conditions to suit.
The speed favouring track will also aid his chances and his run in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle may represent better form than that of the Getabird romp last time out.
The Boylesports Champion Chase on day one is one of the most fascinating contests set to be run throughout this week at the Punchestown Festival. The Grade 1 is loaded with quality with Willie Mullins sending three of his high profile runners to compete in the race.
With the short-priced favourite having just run once in 13 months, while his three main challengers having all had long seasons, its possibly not a great betting heat. Douvan reappeared in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival and looked to be travelling and jumping well before making a slight mistake and coming down.
Again the choice of Paul Townend, the eight-year-old has reportedly being doing some good homework and he looks by far the most likely winner. Min looks the main danger, although it was slightly disappointing that he only managed to fill the runner-up spot at Aintree recently, while Un De Sceaux hasn’t looked the same beast in his two most recent runs. A back to form Douvan wins this and a Willie Mullins 1-2-3 is a likely scenario here.
The third Grade 1 on a heavenly opening day of the Punchestwon Festival, the Champion Novice Chase in comparison to the previous Grade 1, looks a great betting heat. The Henry De Bromhead-trained Monalee heads the current market and deserves his place at the top having done very little wrong this season.
The seven-year-old was a gutsy winner of the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown at the Dublin Racing Festival and he lost little in defeat when chasing home the impressive Presenting Percy in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. That said, his efforts this season have suggested that he may be better over the slightly shorter trip. The field looks full of potential improvers and there are enough dangers to take the favourite on here.
Road To Respect – Coral Punchestown Gold Cup (Grade 1) - WIN
The Day two feature, the Punchestown Gold Cup doesn’t lack in numbers but looks to be lacking in high end quality.
Djakadam, Bellshill, Killultagh Vic and Total Recall will represent ‘the Punchestown King’ Willie Mullins but all arrive here with some questions to answer. Bellshill is the most fancied if you use the market as a guide and does look a very good horse away from Cheltenham and Leopardstown. The Joseph O’Brien-trained Edwulf comes next in the market and was a good winner of the Irish Gold Cup but again was well held in the Cheltenham equivalent.
The Noel Meade recruit Road To Respect is a very worthy market leader having run to a constant level of form this season. He followed his Grade 1 Christmas Chase victory at Leopardstown with a fourth place finish in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. That looks the best form on offer and the seven-year-old looks the most progressive in the field. Despite his short price, victory for the Gigginstown horse looks the most likely outcome.
Willie Mullins rarely leaves Punchestown without a number of winners and Penhill looks another who can add to that tally. The seven-year-old has made just the one start since finishing second at this festival last year, and that was when he made a winning return to land the stayers hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Not un-fancied that day, he was a good two-length winner under Paul Townend. The return to a sounder surface and this track will hold no fears for Penhill and he looks the one to beat.
Supasundae is likely to run another solid race if pitching up here, while Identity Thief looks a player for Henry De Bromhead over this trip again, having made his mark recently at the Aintree Grand National meeting. That said, the lightly raced Penhill can provide Paul Townend and Willie Mullins with another winner this week.
Footpad – Ryanair Novice Chase (Grade 1) - WIN
Footpad has done very little wrong this season and has won all four starts over fences this term in the style of a potential star. His win in the Arkle Challenge Trophy was sensational and if he reproduces a similar effort here, there will be nothing in this field that will be able to match him.
Having scoped dirty prior to Aintree, he looks back on track and ready to line up here. He will take a world of beating.