Matt Tombs / Monday 28th April 2014 / 17:15
The Punchestown Festival kicks off on watered ground, officially good to yielding. It’s always hard to know how watered ground will ride so its worth watching the early races, but I’m assuming it’ll ride as advertised.
The highlight of the opening day is the Grade 1 2m chase. Hidden Cyclone (5/1) had been something of an underachiever before this season, but he’s been really consistent in 6 starts this term, never out of the frame. He looked to improve again when 2nd to Dynaste in the Ryanair and whilst he’s clearly effective at this trip, I think he’s ideally suited be 2½m. His yard is back amongst the winners but he has the profile of a solid 160 horse and, weak Grade 1 though this is, there’s too much doubt that that will be good enough to be backing him at (5/1).
Somersby (5/1) is an unfashionable horse. He’s 10 and is 1/14 in Grade 1 chases. Like Hidden Cyclone he’s exposed as being below Grade 1 level, albeit he’s probably a 165 horse (rather than a 160 horse). That said he’s consistent, likes good ground and has been 2nd in the two big races of the season so far – the Tingle Creek and the Champion Chase. If he was an 8 year old 2nd season chaser he’d be a lot shorter for this. He sets the standard but is vulnerable to an improver.
Module (5/1) was only a neck behind Somersby in the Champion Chase, (and a head behind him when the winner was conceding him 3lb in the Haldon.) There shouldn’t be much between them again, but with this looking likely to be less of a test of stamina than the Champion Chase, I think Somersby can confirm the form.
Twinlight (8/1) looked really good in the autumn when winning graded events at Naas and Cork easily. He is one of the few pure 2 milers in the field and so can be forgiven his flop behind Captain Chris at Kempton over 2½m, and he had a throat infection when also bombing at Naas. He bounced back with a good run at Fairyhouse behind Arvika Ligeonniere, who is cut above these going right handed on testing ground. The concern about him is whether he’s as effective on goodish ground.
I’ve called Ballyngaour (10/1) wrong every race this season, backing him when he bombed in the Paddy Power and when 3rd in the Melling, but not when he bolted up in Byrne Group Plate at the Festival. He travels well but hasn’t found much off the bridle so far, so it must make sense to give him a try over 2m to see if its stamina rather than physical issues or attitude that are behind the weak finishes.
Baily Green (9/1) was close up and still travelling when falling 4 out in the Champion Chase. He then was beaten 3l by Bog Warrior over 2m4f at Navan when trying to give him 5lb. If you take the view that Bog Warrior is still a high class animal then that was a great run on heavy ground that wouldn’t have suited. His Arkle 2nd to Simonsig reads really well in the context of this and, whilst it’s not clear whether he’s better at 2m or 2½m, I think he’s overpriced against some more exposed rivals. He’s a good ground horse and is arguably best right handed, (7 of his 8 wins on right handed tracks and jumped right in the Champion Chase,) so should have ideal conditions here.
1pt Baily Green win the Boylesports.com Champion Chase (17:30) @ 9/1
The Grade 1 novice chase over 3m1f looks to lack a star, but Djakadam (3/1) is a fascinating contender. He’s only 5 and took advantage of 11lb weight for age when beating Si C’Etait Vrai and then Bright New Dawn, (both at Leopardstown at around 2½m.) In the JLT he got only 1lb but was still going well enough when crashing out 4 from home. You’d have to be worried about how that will affect his confidence for this. He’s also stepping up in trip (unraced beyond 2m5f) but he gets 9lb, which is huge over this sort of distance. His breeding is encouraging from a stamina point of view but he’s short enough with those question marks hanging over him.
Morning Assembly (7/2) was 3rd in the RSA, just looking to lack a gear at the business end. He was a good winner of the 3m novice hurdle here last season, (on much softer ground). He isn’t a flashy type but he hasn’t had a hard season, (hadn’t run since the turn of the year which is always a bar to winning the RSA.) He doesn’t look a world beater but should run his race and that RSA form may be good enough here.
Carlingford Lough (6/1) beat Morning Assembly 1½l in the 3m Grade 1 at Leopardstown at Christmas but was only 6th in the RSA, 3½l behind him. Ironically for a novice who’d had 13 runs over fences, he jumped the worst of those who completed and never really was able to land a blow. There shouldn’t be much between them again here, so he’s the better value of the two.
Don Cossack (11/2) fell in the RSA but was then a solid 10l 2nd to Holywell at Aintree. I’m far from convinced he wants as far as this but his form is good and it was interesting to hear Eddie O’Leary say that he’s best when kept busy. It’s always hard to know which horses will be over the top come this Festival, but that suggests he may be one who’ll hold his form.
Ballycasey (11/2) has been a bit of a hype horse. He was a strong fancy for the Albert Bartlett last year only to get sick travelling across. He beat Don Cossack and Carlingford Lough, (who looked held when coming down,) in the Moriarty over 2m5f, but didn’t look to get home in the RSA. That was run at a breakneck gallop but he’s actually running over an extra ½f here and there had to be a doubt about his stamina. He also has to get over a nasty fall in the Powers Gold Cup only 9 days ago.
Mozoltov (14/1) also tipped up at Fairyhouse but that was a case of Davy Russell coming out of the side door early on so he hasn’t had a hard race or bad fall to get over. There’s always a danger of following novices over cliffs at this stage of the season, but Mozoltov looks to have been crying out for a trip, and Paul Carberry is the perfect man to get him into a rhythm going a yard slower over this longer trip. There’s obviously a concern about his jumping but that’s more than made up for by the price. He could still be a top class horse and is well worth one more chance.
1pt Mozoltov to win the Champion Novice Chase (18:40) @ 14/1
The other Grade 1 on the card is the 2m novice hurdle. Willie Mullins has decided to reverse trips for his Cheltenham winners Vautour and Faugheen, with the latter running here. Faugheen (4/5) blew away Supreme runner up and Top Novices winner Josses Hill by 22l on the bridle in a bumper, (Josses Hill was then trained in a small stable before transferring to Nicky Henderson.) He then hacked up in 3 hurdles between 2½m and 3m. He showed a mighty engine in those races but jumped indifferently.
It was the same story in the Neptune. He made a mistake 4 out and blundered 3 out, but still trounced a good field. The reality is that we don’t know whether he’ll be as effective at 2m, in particular how he’ll jump going a quicker pace. Willie Mullins said the other day that he didn’t think he was a Champion Hurdle horse but he has to shuffle his pack for the Champion Hurdle and novice chases next season - this is clearly a fact-finding mission. He’s much the most likely winner and could easily bolt up, but punting is about value, and he’s not an odds-on shot.
Sgt Reckless (7/1) was a fast finishing 4th in the Supreme but then failed to quicken in the Top Novices. He’s a good yardstick but is 1/5 over hurdles and doesn’t look quite good enough. Valseur Lido (7/1) looks a chaser for next season over further. He’s won all 3 races on bad ground for Willie Mullins but was only 10th on good ground in the Supreme and has a question mark regarding conditions here. Wicklow Brave (14/1) looked good when thrashing Lieutenant Colonel (Grade 2 winner since) here in February but was only 6th when well fancied for the Supreme and bombed at Fairyhouse behind Valseur Lido in the manner of a horse who might have had enough for the season, (been on the go since this meeting last year.)
That all looks to make Western Boy (10/1) great each-way value against the favourite. He went the car park route in the Supreme and jumped significantly to his right over the last 3, (beaten 10½l in 7th). Back on a right handed track with that experience under his belt, (only his 3rd run over hurdles,) he could be a different proposition. He bustled up Vautour here in January – being only beaten ¾l then is probably the best 2m hurdles form on offer here. He’s the best value bet of the day.
1pt Western Boy e/w in the Champion Novice Hurdle (16:20) @ 10/1