Matt Tombs / Friday 1st May 2015 / 09:29
Friday is the last day of the main Punchestown Festival, though there is racing tomorrow. The ground dried out yesterday and the official description of yielding was probably right, (I’d thought it might ride softer.) The desire for slow ground for the spring festivals these days is such that 5mm of water has been put on overnight so, despite it being May, there is little prospect of good ground. Yielding or a bit slower will probably be an accurate description.
Only four line up for the Punchestown champion hurdle (2m) and it’s effectively a match between the Champion Hurdle 1-2 Faugheen and Arctic Fire. Ruby Walsh rode a brilliant race in the Champion Hurdle, dictating uneven fractions, which hugely inconvenienced Arctic Fire, who needs an end-to-end gallop.
Whilst its probable Faugheen (1/5) is just the better horse, if there was going to be a strong pace here, I’d be all over Arctic Fire at 9/2 but I suspect Ruby will get to dictate again. In last season’s renewal, Jezki made all to beat Hurricane Fly to stop exactly the same problem, but he was in a different stable and I expect Arctic Fire’s chances to be compromised again by being held up off a steady pace.
The 2m4f Grade 1 novice hurdle features Nichols Canyon (10/11) and its hard to find a reason to take him on at that price either. He pulled too hard in the Neptune but was really impressive when settling better at Aintree. With 2 other runners in the race, the Mullins camp aren’t going to allow this to develop into a crawl, so Nichols Canyon should prove very hard to beat.
Sempre Medici (9/2) looks to be learning fast and has a chance and Alpha Des Obeaux’s (7/1) form against Thistlecrack in the Sefton got a good advertisment earlier in the week. Outlander (10/1) is better than he’s shown in his previous couple of runs, but I think Nichols Canyon is going to be a tough nut to crack here, so I’m sitting this one out.
The novice handicap chase over 2m5f, looks a belter, with a stack of potentially graded horses lining up. I was a big fan of Shanahan’s Turn (12/1) early on in the season and his beating of Wounded Warrior here over 1f shorter at the start of the season looks good now. He didn’t look to stay when 25l 5th to Don Poli in the 3m Grade 1 at Christmas and the yard was out of form when he bombed in the Grade 1 Flogas in early February. Henry De Bromhead’s horses are running better now and he has been dropped 5lb to 143 leaving him dangerously well handicapped.
Willie Mullins runs 3, 2 of which look to have leading chances. I put up Blood Cotil (14/1) for the Grand Annual and he was backed off the boards against AP’s last ride Ned Buntline, from 9/1 to 4/1 joint favourite. He blundered badly at the 3rd there and having made a couple of niggly mistakes down the far side, he was behind when hampered at the top of the hill. The step up in trip might give him more time to get organised at his fences here, though the quicker ground is probably against him. He looks well handicapped off 141.
I also like Willie’s Tennis Cap (14/1) who was an excellent 2nd in the County Hurdle two years ago off 141 and gets in off 1lb lower here. He’d been off for nearly 2 years before two runs in beginners chases this spring. Having blown away the cobwebs at Naas he bolted up in a weak event at Cork earlier in the month. He’s still a bit novicey at his obstacles and, whilst I think he’ll be a major force in handicaps at up to this sort of distance next season, he might be too inexperienced to win such a hot contest at this stage.
It was a surprise to see Ruby Walsh pick Val De Ferbet (8/1). He’s had just 3 runs over fences, all at 3m. He’s been keen, hence the drop back to 2m5f. Wishful Thinking won this off 159 but he looked an exceptional prospect at that stage, (before physical problems intervened.) Val De Ferbet runs off 151 here and that looks a tough ask on ground quicker than ideal.
Fine Rightly (12/1) has been progressive over fences this season. He split subsequent Grade 1 winner Sizing Granite and Blood Cotil at Naas in January over 2m, (though Blood Cotil got hampered at the first). He then won a limited handicap off 132 at Ayr and stepped up to Grade 3 company when beating Rule The World at Naas. If the ground doesn’t dry out too much he should be a big player off 140.
Further down the handicap lurks the talented Mr Fiftyone (7/1). He was the lucky recipient of Un De Sceaux failing to get the landing gear out at Thurles and his handicap 2nd to Ballyadam Approach off 129 at Fairyhouse got a big boost earlier in the week. He was well fancied that day and is just 2lb higher off 131 here. He looks well handicapped and this step up in trip might well suit, but this is the sort of handicap where he could get outclassed by a future Grade 1 horse further up the weights.
Thomas Crapper (10/1) was plotted up for the novices handicap chase at Cheltenham and ran a blinder to be 2½l 2nd to Irish Cavalier off 134. He’s since run the talented but enigmatic Puffin Billy (who gave 10lb) to a short head at Ascot. That’s left him 4lb higher than at Cheltenham off 138 and I think he’s vulnerable to classier types here.
Henry De Bromhead’s yard is just running into some form at the right time, (A Sizing Network was just chinned here yesterday,) and Shanahan’s Turn looked like he might be a Grade 1 horse in the autumn. He’s in here off 143, is fresh, and looks the value.
1pt Shanahans Turn to win the Novice Handicap Chase @ 12/1
At first sight the champion hunter chase looks at the mercy of On The Fringe (4/9) who became the first horse since the great hunter Double Silk in 1993 to do the Cheltenham / Aintree double. If he can reproduce that form he’s a certainty against these, (has won this race three times before.)
It’s rare though for any horse to win at the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown Festivals, as the first 2 legs would take it out of most horses. Only all time greats Istabraq and Sprinter Sacre have done it in the modern era. Hunter chase company is clearly much less demanding, but even allowing for that, On The Fringe isn’t the certainty that the formbook and the market suggest.
He has two obvious opponents in Warne and Pearlysteps. Warne (5/1) was a good winner of the Fox Hunters’ at Aintree last season, but crashed out at the first there this time around, and Sam Waley-Cohen doesn’t come over to take the ride. He has to recover from that fall and has looked best at intermediate trips.
If On The Fringe isn’t able to bring his A game after his Cheltenham and Aintree exertions, the one to take him on with is Pearlysteps (9/1) who was a fine 10l 4th to Tammy’s Hill in last season’s Foxhunters at Cheltenham, (5l behind On The Fringe). He’s only run once this season, when winning easily in the Walrus at Haydock. That’s usually a strong hunter and 5th Major Malarky was a solid 4th to On The Fringe at Cheltenham and 3rd Cottage Oak was a good 3rd at Cheltenham earlier in the week.
Pearlysteps can hardly be improving at the age of 12, but if On The Fringe does feel the effects of his Cheltenham and Aintree runs, this is a really weak race. Pearlysteps has the assistance of the experienced Ollie Greenall and can spring a surprise here.
1pt Pearlysteps to win the Champion Hunters Chase @ 9/1