Matt Tombs / Tuesday 5th May 2015 / 16:31
The big race of the week, the Punchestown Gold Cup, produced a 6th victory of the campaign from 7 races for Don Cossack. He’s a horse that has really come of age this season, and he surprised me with how well he stayed the 3m1f trip, (good to yielding). The Melling Chase (2m4f) looked to fall apart around him, and I wonder whether the same happened here. Djakadam and Road To Riches both had hard races in the Gold Cup and Cue Card had been really out of form this season.
You can only go on making excuses for a horse winning or losing for so long though, and the reality is probably that Don Cossack is now a top class chaser at intermediate and staying trips. If stamina isn’t an issue then the question becomes whether he acts at Cheltenham. He fell in last season’s RSA and was what now looks a disappointing 3rd in the Ryanair. Given how well he’s performed all season, that has to be a question mark over his Gold Cup prospects and 7/1 doesn’t appeal.
Djakadam and Road To Riches both ran solid races after such a hard race in the Gold Cup. It’s a bit of a guessing game working out which horses will take really hard races and which horses will get bottomed by them, but I’m mindful that a hard race here after a real slog in the Gold Cup looked to finish Sir Des Champs and Long Run a couple of years ago. I’ll be watching both Djakadam (14/1) and Road To Riches (20/1) closely when they return in the autumn, but I doubt I’ll be backing them until they’ve proved they’ve trained on.
The open Grade 1 2m chase featured lots of my old friends. I’d lumped on Felix Yonger ante-post for the Arkle last season, but he ended up in the JLT and he doesn’t really get that trip in a truly run race. The vibes are he wasn’t quite right in 2014 and he seems in much better form now, completing a 4 timer here with a gritty performance to see off a rejuvenated Baily Green by ½l, the pair pulling miles clear, (good to yielding).
It made me think what might have been had he got a clear run to what was an ordinary Arkle last season, but he’ll be 10 next year and 20/1 for the Champion Chase doesn’t appeal. This was probably his day in the sun. Runner-up Baily Green shouldn’t be underestimated on a sound surface either, with his yard back in form after a quiet winter. He made hay during the summer as a novice 3 years ago and, whilst they’ll be fewer races he’s eligible for now, he’d be one to keep on side if he’s kept on the go.
What many racing fans like me love about Un De Sceaux is the wow factor of watching him run. A bold, front runner attacking his fences at an electric gallop and then quickening at the business end is as good as it gets. He started 1/10 in the 2m Grade 1 novice chase but took a few fences to warm to his jumping. He was kept under restraint, (relatively speaking,) by Ruby Walsh and was then just pushed out to win by 3l, (yielding).
This run lacked that wow factor but there are several potential reasons for that. It’s the end of the season for a horse that is reputedly very hard on himself in his races. Given he was 1/10 it was the perfect opportunity for Ruby to continue to educate him with his longevity in mind, and the ground was apparently quicker than he’d like.
That ground issue is a concern. He’s raced on a sound surface here and at Cheltenham, (where the ground was similar,) - some horses will let themselves down on good ground once, but remember it and not do so again. That’s the only concern with next year’s Champion Chase (6/4) in mind. He still looks the champion in waiting.
Just Cameron came into this an unknown quantity but his form in beating Duke Of Navan twice had been boosted and he’d easily won a novice handicap off 140. It’s hard to know what he achieved here and he’s probably best judged through Ted Veale and Real Steel. He was rated 148 coming into this and it’ll be interesting to see what the handicapper does. He’s unexposed but 33/1 for the Champion Chase is about right.
Don Poli had been a good winner of the RSA, looking around and appearing to have plenty more in the tank. These lazy types are fashionable, the perception being that they don’t give themselves hard races, (as horses like Many Clouds who give everything do,) allowing them to go to the well more often. The problem is that sometimes laziness turns into reluctance and Don Poli was bitterly disappointing in the 3m1f Grade 1 novice chase, finishing last of 5, (good to yielding). He didn’t travel and dropped out tamely. It might just be he’s over the top, though this was only his 4th race of the season. He’s out to 9/1 for the Gold Cup. I’d want to see his first run next season before thinking about backing him, but if this was just a an end of season blip he’s still right in the Gold Cup picture.
Don Poli and Valseur Lido had been the subject of much contention between Gigginstown and Willie Mullins over their Cheltenham targets. Gigginstown won the argument but Willie looks to have been right and had Valseur Lido gone for the RSA and Don Poli the 4 miler, connections would probably have won both. Valseur Lido bounced back from a dire run at Fairyhouse and looked to relish the step up to 3m1f to win decisively. All 5 runners were virtually in the air together 2 out though, so it might have been more of a test of speed than it appeared, which could be an excuse for Don Poli and leave the stamina question mark remaining for Valseur Lido. 25/1 for the Gold Cup looks tempting as he jumps economically and will have more basic speed than the vast majority of his likely rivals.
For a horse that looks far from the finished article, Wounded Warrior ran a cracker to be beaten only 2¼l. Stamina looks very much his forte and whether he’ll have the speed for the top races is open to question, but he looked to enjoy bowling along in front here, and Coneygree showed in the Gold Cup how such tactics can blow a field apart. He’s 50/1 for the Gold Cup, which also looks a bit big as, only 6 and still a bit weak, he could easily improve markedly over the summer.
With the blight of small fields and endless Grade 1s it’s great that Punchestown don’t have a level weights novice chase over an intermediate distance, but instead have a handicap over 2m5f. They were rewarded with a cracking field of 17 and, having put up Blood Cotil for the Grand Annual, it was frustrating that I talked myself out of backing him here, (largely because Ruby Walsh passed him over for a top weight without obviously strong claims.) As I’d thought, Blood Cotil was really nicely in off 141 and he was a decisive winner by 2¾l, (good to yielding). This looked the sort of race which would produce Grade 1 winners next season and he could well be one for the Ryanair, (not quoted). The fact that Willie Mullins is talking about running him in the Galway Plate backs up the theory he’s a Grade 1 horse as he’ll be off a mark of about 150 there, (Gold Cup 3rd Road To Riches won the Plate off 149 last year.)
Irish Cavalier had been 4¼l 4th to Valseur Lido in the Grade 1 over 3m1f earlier in the week and showed he can take hard races, (this was his 3rd since his handicap win at Cheltenham,) by running another fine race in 2nd. He stays further and looks the right type for the Paddy Power and Hennessy in the autumn.
Whilst hunter chases are a long way from Grade 1 company, On The Fringe joined a select group with Istabraq and Sprinter Sacre in winning at the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown Festivals in the modern era. He was probably feeling the effects of those races and looked a bit weary close home, but held on well to beat Noble Prince by 1l, (good to yielding). He’ll be 11 but he’s a class act at this level and there’s no reason why he can’t win the Foxhunters again at Cheltenham next season.
The extent of Willie Mullins’ domination of the meeting was extraordinary. We’ve got used to him dominating here but he took things to a new level, smashing his own record to win 16 races. What’s much more telling is that he won 10 of the 12 Grade 1s, (and had the runner-up in the other 2.) Whilst it can’t be healthy for the sport to have one yard dominate so much, (especially when they keep their best horses apart,) you have to applaud Willie Mullins for the way he’s built his business into one on a different level from his rivals. Nicky Henderson talked about bringing a smaller team than usual because the Mullins horses were so hard to compete with and Paul Nicholls had just 1 runner all week. Mullins is a genius, and no matter how good or bad his dominance is for racing, it shouldn’t be forgotten how brilliantly his yard has performed this season.