Cracking first day of action at this year’s Punchestown Festival, Fox Norton continuing his great season when lowering the colours of Un De Sceaux, Labaik refusing again….
4.20 – Start things off here a 2 mile 4 hurdle race headed by Wilie Mullins Battleford. He was one of the top bumpers of last season and hasn’t really lived up to expectations this time around, he ran reasonably finishing eight in the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham and was second behind Monalee in a Group 3 the time before, he is however down in Grade here today. Minella Til Dawn for Gordon Elliot has yet to race on ground this good however if he takes it he will be a big danger to the favourite, he looked to be going well enough when falling last time out in a Grade 2 contest. One I like as an each way shout C’est Jersey for Willie Mullins and Paul Townend, 3 miles seemed to stretch him in the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham as he was travelling pretty strongly throughout before not staying the trip. This is an easier contest and back down in trip so he could just get in the frame if handling the ground. I think Battleford (13/8) might bounce now he’s eased in Grade and he might just be chased home by stablemate C’est Jersey (10/1).
4.55 – Grade 1 Novice Hurdle over 3 miles now and it’s headed with joint favourites currently in Willie Mullins Penhill and Patrick Kelly’s Presenting Percy. Both Cheltenham Festival winners with Penhill’s coming in the Albert Bartlett and Presenting Percy taking the Pertemps impressively under top weight. One just outside these two in the market is Monalee for Henry De Bromhead who was second behind Penhill at Cheltenham and has decent form to his name himself with a Group 3 win and Group 2 second. Two each way chances I like here if you do want to look away from the market principles are Al Boum Photo and Bon Papa both also for Willie Mullins. Al Boum Photo won a Grade 2 last time out and might find the trip to his liking however Bon Papa did struggle at Cheltenham but more than likely would’ve made it three wins from his first three had he not falling at Cork in January. I’ve backed Penhill (5/2) most times he’s ran this season though and I do think he’s a class act so gets my vote here a long with two each way fancies in Al Boum Photo (8/1) and Bon Papa (20/1).
5.30 – The big one in the Punchestown Gold Cup now and it’s the Cheltenham Gold Cup hero that heads affairs in Sizing John for Jessica Harrington and Robbie Power. It was an outstanding display from him that day at Cheltenham and he certainly proved me wrong as I wasn’t at all convinced he’d get close. He also won the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in his outing before so he’s clearly the form horse in the race and most definitely the one to beat. Djakadam for Willie Mullins and the Ricci’s is next in the market as he mostly is in Gold Cup markets. I just don’t know anymore with Djakadam, he seemed to be travelling very well in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham before clouting one of the final fences and finishing fourth. I aren’t overly confident he stays the trip either and he has put in more lackluster runs than he has impressive as of late. I’d still really like to see him win here and I probably will have something on him out of principal but there are a lot of questions hanging over him. Another one with a few questions hanging over him will be Coneygree, the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner has only had two runs since then the last of them coming back in November when 12 lengths behind Cue Card at Haydock. If he is fully tuned up and runs to the best of his ability he certainly has what it takes to be there or thereabouts. Outlander ran a flat race at Cheltenham for Gigginstown and Gordon Elliot and they’ll be expecting a much better showing here. Now, the one I fancy here as an each way, and your probably going to think Jordan needs to check in at the priory as there is only seven runners as it is, is Champagne West (18/1) for Henry de Bromhead. He won a top handicap over 3 miles 1 at Gowran Park before being soundly beaten at Cheltenham, he also won a listed contest at the start of the year at Tramore too. It is a long shot and chances are that he may well be soundly beaten again here but this race throws up surprises as we saw last year and I think this horse might just sneak himself into the frame.
6.05 – Grade 1 National Hunt Flat Race up now and it’s headed by a horse that put in one of the performances of the Cheltenham Festival when looking soundly beaten in the bumper to however come flying up the hill from a different county and take the spoils, this of course Fayonagh for Gordon Elliot and Jamie Codd. She’ll take a lot of beating here. Poli Roi cost 300,000 and won comfortably on first start for new connections at Navan last time out so big things will be expected of this one. Someday was second in this last year behind Cilaos Emery who went on to win the Champion Novice yesterday so that’s he also overcame a lay off to win last time out over at Leopardstown, obvious chances on that form. Again though, another Priory trip might be on the cards for me, but I fancy taking another chance on Carter McKay (11/2) for Willie Mullins. He won two starts comfortably from the front before being soundly beaten in the bumper at the Cheltenham Festival of which he was the antepost favourite for. I do think it might be too early to write him off yet and he’s a decent enough price to get in the frame here and bounce back.