Matt Tombs / Friday 2nd May 2014 / 10:10
Whilst there’s a fantastic end of term atmosphere at the Punchestown Festival, it can be a minefield for punters and that was shown perfectly yesterday with Jetson and God’s Own winning Grade 1s they were considered no-hopers for yesterday morning. That’s all part of betting at this stage of the season and stakes get adjusted accordingly, but it won’t stop me trying to make some money on the last main day of the Punchestown Festival.
The big race is the 2m Racing Post Champion Hurdle. Before Cheltenham, I'd said that there were 2 criteria for Jezki (evens) to turn round the form with Hurricane Fly (11/10) and win the Champion Hurdle - good ground and a fast run race.
He got both when winning at Cheltenham, finishing 5l ahead of Hurricane Fly. The ground at Cheltenham was proper good ground – on the quick side if the course record time is an accurate guide. It’s therefore likely to be a fair bit slower here, (officially yielding now after showers fell yesterday,) but still much quicker than when Hurricane Fly beat Jezki twice at Leopardstown in the winter.
With Un De Sceaux not running, and only 3 turning up, there’s obviously the chance of a falsely run race, which would be hugely to Hurricane Fly’s advantage. Jessica Harrington has wisely declared 139 rated Steps To Freedom (50/1). He’s not a natural front runner though and whether he can ensure the sort of true gallop that Jezki thrives off is open to debate.
The slower ground and likely steadier run race should enable Hurricane Fly to get much closer to Jezki than at Cheltenham, a course he's never performed his best at. Its arguable that Jezki didn’t get the credit he deserves for his Champion Hurdle win with The New One being unlucky - and he’s probably good value at even money, but the race could easily turn into a farce and I don’t like this sort of contest as a betting proposition.
The other Grade 1, the 2m4f novice hurdle, isn’t much of a betting proposition either. Vautour (2/5) was hugely impressive at Cheltenham, thrashing a decent looking Supreme field. That form got some boosts at Aintree and Fairyhouse, though Faugheen treated a number of the Supreme also-rans with even more contempt earlier in the week. Vautour has already won over 2m2f in the Deloitte and it would be surprise if he fails through lack of stamina. I’m not worried by his ‘failing a fitness test’ for the 2m race earlier in the week – I think Mullins wanted to test Faugheen at the minimum distance and see how Vautour shaped up over 2m4f. He’s a very short price – but deserves to be.
I reckon the market has Vautour about right, so I’m looking for some value in the minor races. I put up Arctic Fire for the County Hurdle and he was just edged out by Lac Fontana there. He’s arguably good value at 4/5 in the winners of one novice hurdle, as he’s miles clear on form – but this column isn’t about putting up odds-on shots in small races.
The reality is that it’s not a great punting card today, (which given the results yesterday might be a blessing in disguise), but there is one stand out bet - in the valuable 2m5f novice handicap chase.
Operating (16/1) was a horse I thought was really promising early in the season when running good races behind Felix Yonger, Road To Riches and Foxrock. He disappointed once the ground got soft in the winter but bounced back on yielding ground to win at Cork last week. Off a mark of 128 he looks well treated with that confidence booster under his belt.
I put up Mullaghanoe River (14/1) for the Irish National and he was going well in the front rank when falling 5 out. He’d looked as if that big step up in trip would suit and whilst I think he’s nicely handicapped on 136, I’m concerned that he might get done for toe here.
Balnaslow (15/2) was a fair 4th off 136 in the Kim Muir (beaten 22l) and it was interesting to hear Willie Mullins describe him as well handicapped. He is off the same mark here but he has looked better at further so far so is another for whom this trip might be too sharp.
Road To Riches (9/1) had looked to have been given a stiffish mark of 145 but his form got a big boost when Mallowney won off 139 yesterday. Road To Riches beat Mallowney 3¾l at Fairyhouse 12 days ago and with crack 7lb claimer Ger Fox up, he ought to go close on that. However, Mallowney looked much better suited by a handicap and the application of a first time hood – it might have been a case of him improving a lot yesterday.
Ericht (8/1) is an interesting contender off 139. He’s been a bit of an underachiever so far. He looked good when winning a fair novice at Musselburgh, but bombed at the Festival when well fancied for the novices handicap chase, (off 140). He’s a chancy proposition but if he’s on a going day he could be in the shake up.
Ballinvarig (12/1) was made to look pretty ordinary by Present View at Kempton, but that form looked a lot better when the winner followed up at the Festival off an 11lb higher mark. I’m not sure he quite has the class for this sort of race.
Whilst there are plenty of nice types in this, clear preference is for Sizing Gold (7/1) who looked like he might be a Grade 1 horse earlier in the season. He beat Mullaghanoe River (who’s now 1lb better off) comfortably by 4l at Navan, (Operating 30l behind). He looked to get outstayed by Foxrock in the mud over 3m in a Grade 2 at Naas and was then only a fair 24l 6th in the JLT. He was inexperienced for that having had just 2 runs over fences and was very keen early on, still in the mix turning in but allowed to coast home once his chance had gone.
He looks better than the bare result and that has left him on a mark of 137 - I’d be really surprised if he isn’t much better than that. The ease in the ground should help and he’s a clear favourite for this in my book.
1pt Sizing Gold to win the Aon Novice Handicap Chase (4.20) @ 7/1
The market for the hunter chase (3m1f) was a bit of a surprise as I’d expected Cheltenham 3rd On The Fringe (7/4 to be an odds-on shot, but Aintree winner Warne (9/4) is challenging for favouritism.
Warne jumped really well at Aintree over an extended 2m5f, making all under a good ride and beating the previous year’s winner Tartan Snow by 13l, with Mossey Joe (disappointing again since) 3rd. He’s looked much better over those sorts of intermediate trips and stamina is a big question mark here.
He has 3¼l to find with On the Fringe from their clash in the big Leopardstown hunter clash on Hennessy day (over 3m) and I think On The Fringe will confirm the placings. On The Fringe was 5l 3rd at Cheltenham and dropping back 1½f in trip to 3m1f looks ideal for him.
There aren’t too many to fancy against the main two. Vital Plot (12/1) has been in great form between the flags, but its hard to assess what that form is worth. His rules form from 2 years ago gives him plenty to find – he’s the classic sort for momentum punters if he’s strong in the market.
The potential joker in the pack is Rocket Man (20/1). There can’t be too many Coolmore colts that go off favourite for the Chester Vase, who end up winning 4 mile points, as he did earlier in the month. He won a valuable handicap hurdle at Cagnes in late 2011 and was performing decently on the flat last summer. He might be interesting at a big price.
Although there are a couple of possible wild cards, it has historically paid to go with proven recent form in hunter chases. On his form this season, including at Cheltenham, On The Fringe really looks a good thing to repeat his wins of 2010 and 2012 in this race. I can see him going off close to even money and I have him down as an odds-on shot.
1pt On The Fringe to win the Champion Hunters Chase (7.45) @ 7/4