Matt Tombs / Wednesday 29th April 2015 / 09:44
The ground on the first day was officially good to yielding on the hurdles and chase tracks. Rain fell during the card and it probably rode slightly slower than the official description. 5mm more fell overnight but the official going remains good to yielding. Showers are forecast during today.
The Punchestown Gold Cup (3m1f) is a really trappy race to assess. Coneygree made it a brutal test in the Gold Cup and the 2nd and 3rd home, Djakadam and Road To Riches, looked to have really hard races, so it’s tempting to oppose them on point of principle. That said, Sir Des Champs and Long Run looked as if they had even harder races in the Gold Cup two years ago, (they both walked over the line,) before finishing 1st and 2nd in this.
Djakadam (11/4) looks the more vulnerable of the two unless a lot more rain falls. He’s an inexperienced 6 year old, who was having just his 6th chase in the Gold Cup. Normally, you’d think he was the unexposed one to take out of the race for the future. However, Ruby Walsh said afterwards he got very empty but tried really hard to beat Road To Riches. It wouldn’t be a surprise if that race has bottomed him and I couldn’t back him at a short price given he faces other classy horses as well as Road To Riches again.
Road To Riches (7/2) was the hard luck story of the Gold Cup. He loves a sound surface and the rain was really against him, (and suited Coneygree and Djakadam.) Had it remained dry he may well have won. The drop back in trip here (1½f) is also in his favour and unless there is a lot of rain, I fancy him to turn the tables on Djakadam. He’s a more mature 8 year old and theoretically might be better placed to take such a hard race, but that’s all speculation. The reality is that he’s virtually as short a price as Djakadam and a similarly risky betting proposition.
Don Cossack (3/1) has long been a tricky horse to assess. He’d looked soft earlier in his career but has won all 4 of his races in Ireland this season in good style. He was disappointing in the Ryanair, (slightly unlikely in running but wouldn’t have troubled Uxizandre even with a clear run.)
The extraordinary fact that’s been doing the rounds about Don Cossack this week, is that on Timeform figures and RPRs, his Aintree win was the best ever performance from a horse with AP McCoy on board! I think that race fell apart and he was grossly flattered. He has always looked a suspect stayer to me and I think connections have been doing the right thing in campaigning him over intermediate trips all season. I’d want to see him win a good race over this type of trip before backing him in this sort of situation.
Most of the others look to be a light of former days and I couldn’t back Cue Card (14/1), Boston Bob (16/1), On His Own (14/1) or The Giant Bolster (40/1) on anything I’ve seen this season.
That leaves Ballynagour (10/1) and if I was convinced he could put two good runs together in a short space of time, it’d be maximum bet time, as I thought he ran a blinder to be chinned by flat track specialist Silviniaco Conti at Aintree. That proved his stamina as Silviniaco Conti went a good gallop there over 3m1f, and he comes here relatively fresh having had just 2 starts this season.
The concern is that he’s seemed at his best off a long break. That said, last season he ran at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown, recording RPRs of 156, 156 and 157 respectively, which suggests he is capable of holding his form. On a line through Holywell he doesn’t have much to find with Djakadam and Road To Riches and he was taking on Holywell on ground that would have suited Holywell much better.
David Pipe describes him as a hard horse to get right, but if he can bring his A game to this he’s good enough to win, especially if hard races have taken their toll on the market leaders. He’s a fair bit bigger than I thought he’d be and there is more than enough juice in the price to take the risk that he doesn’t back up his excellent Aintree run.
1pt Ballynagour to win the Punchestown Gold Cup (17:30) @ 10/1
The market for the 3m Grade 1 novice hurdle surprised me. I was impressed with Shaneshill at Fairyhouse, when he beat a good horse in Outlander, (who gave 5lb,) by 13l over 2m4f. He’d had an interrupted preparation before Cheltenham and ran well under the circumstances to be 4½l 2nd to Douvan in the Supreme.
However, everyone else seems to have been much more impressed and he looks really short at 15/8, stepping up to 3m for the first time. I can see the logic of trying him at the trip so as to plan next season’s campaign, but there has to be a big question mark over whether he’ll get home. I like Shaneshill but he’s a terrible price against 3 other horses with similar chances, and in a race where you get winners at huge prices.
The logical alternative is No More Heroes (10/3) who was slightly unlucky in running when 1½l 3rd to the idling Martello Tower in the Albert Bartlett. I think that’s the best bit of form on offer here and he’s always had a huge reputation in Gordon Elliott’s yard. He is proven at the trip and, having outstayed Shaneshill over 2m4f at Navan in December, I think the extra 4f will be help him accentuate his superiority. His breeding suggests that it’ll be no problem if the rain stays away. The only concern is that he had a hard race at Cheltenham, but despite that, I think he should be favourite for this.
Thistlecrack (8/1) is a hard horse to weigh up. He’d been running mainly at around 2m and had looked a useful novice when 5th off 135 in the Imperial Cup. Stepped up to 3m in the Grade 1 Sefton at Aintree he improved hugely to score by 13l, though I’m not sure he’d have won had the rallying Alpha Des Obeaux not fallen at the last. He’s a perfectly possible winner but I’m not sure how strong the Sefton form is.
Killultagh Vic (10/1) won the Martin Pipe over an extended 2m4f off 135, and that race has tended to go to a stayer. He’d been considered for the Albert Bartlett and, if he settles, this step up in trip could bring about further improvement. Ruby Walsh has passed him over for Shaneshill but he’s still the better value of the two at the prices.
I backed Roi Des Francs (20/1) for the Sefton where he ran no sort of race. He looked laboured from an early stage there in the manner of a horse that had had enough for the season. Ruby Walsh reported that he ran too free on the way to post and if you can forgive him that run, he’s right in this. He does look the Mullins 3rd string and Gigginstown 2nd string on jockey bookings, but it wouldn’t be the first time such a horse has won a big race this season.
Fletchers Flyer (14/1) won one of the minor bumpers at last year’s meeting and has had a good first season over hurdles, winning twice and just getting chinned in a Grade 2 at Haydock, (form hasn’t worked out.) He has a fair bit to find on form, but has been targeted at this and comes here fresher than most.
Three of the last four winners of this have gone off at 33/1, 14/1 & 12/1 and if you like backing horses at huge prices, you could do worse than Arctic Skipper at 100/1. He has no chance on his two hurdles runs (over 2m) despite winning the second of them. He did win a 3m point last season though, and the other 3 finishers have all won a point since. He’s unlikely to be good enough but he’s unexposed and might be a different proposition back at 3m.
I think the Albert Bartlett form is strong and whilst this race does produce upsets, No More Heroes is much the most likely winner – 10/3 is too big.
1pt No More Heroes to win the Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle (16:55) @ 10/3
The 2m4f handicap hurdle for horses rated 95-123 isn’t normally the sort of race I’d be betting in. However, it does a feature a promising novice I’ve been keeping an eye on in Ange D’Or Javilex who is a massive price at 40/1. He isn’t straightforward but looks just the type to flourish in a big field handicap, (28 line up,) where he can get some cover and settle in a truly run race.
He was a decent 3rd to Douvan at Gowran in November, finishing only 7½l behind Sizing John and ahead of Henry Higgins, (backed into favouritism before disappointing in a handicap yesterday), and Modem who was 2nd in the valuable handicap at Leopardstown in January and also in a Grade 2 novice. He was one of the horses moved from Philip Fenton to Shay Barry and after bombing at the turn of the year he had a long break before a pipe opener at the end of last month.
120 looks a generous mark and the likely better ground should suit. He’s worth a speculative bet.
1pt Ange D’Or Javilex to win the Martinstown Handicap Hurdle (15:40) @ 40/1
The Grade 1 Bumper used to be a graveyard for the Cheltenham Bumper form but it’s held up much better in recent years and 8 of these 13 lined up at Cheltenham. It’s easy to fall into a mindset that the best bumper horses will be trained in Ireland, usually by Willie Mullins – but that hasn’t looked the case this spring. The first 4 home at Cheltenham were British trained, as were 3 of the first 4 at Aintree. Of Willie’s 5, Patrick Mullins has chosen Bellshill, well beaten at Cheltenham and a solid 2nd at Aintree, which suggests they don’t have a star.
The only one of the 8 who ran at Cheltenham to finish in the first 5 was runner-up Modus (5/1) who settled much better in a first time hood. Like the winner Moon Racer, he got messed around at the start, and the first two looked value for more than the bare margin.
The occasion generally gets to plenty of the Bumper field at Cheltenham and it’d be no surprise to see one or two improve hugely for the experience. Equally the likes of Disko (9/2) and Charbel (8/1) could be anything.
That said, Modus has the huge advantage of Derek O’Connor on board (unlike the Cheltenham and Aintree equivalents this race is restricted to amateur riders,) and is a surprisingly big price for a horse with the best form.
1pt Modus to win the Champion INH Flat Race (18:05) @ 5/1