Stuart Williams has an in-depth look at the Gold Cup at Punchestown on Wednesday.
Punchestown Gold Cup
Ladbrokes Punchestown Gold Cup (Grade 1) 3m120y
Punchestown Gold Cup Tips:
This race changed complexion somewhat when Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Minella Indo was scratched on Monday after suffering a bruised foot.
Clearly it’s a blow to lose the short-priced antepost favourite at the eleventh hour and more-so when it’s a horse of Minella Indo’s standing. However, this contest remains hugely competitive with no fewer than four Grade 1 winners set to do battle, including a dual Cheltenham Gold Cup winner in the form of Al Boum Photo and a dual King George VI Chase hero in the shape of Clan Des Obeaux.
Irish Gold Cup scorer Kemboy and impressive Melling Chase victor Fakir D’oudaries add further spice to the pot. While Melon remains a fascinating proposition over staying trips judged on his third placed finish in the Savills Chase at Christmas.
What the race lacks in quantity is compensated with quality, and it’s definitely worth taking a closer look at all six contenders prior to drawing any conclusions.
AL BOUM PHOTO:
Dual Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo could only place third in defence of his crown last month after being placed in a pocket by Rachael Blackmore and A Plus Tard at a crucial stage of the race – affording A Plus Tard and the eventual winner Minella Indo to pull out an unassailable lead.
The front three pulled 24 lengths clear of the fourth placed Native River and there was certainly no shame in giving way to two up-and-coming rivals whom were on the receiving end of tactically brilliant rides. That form is easily amongst the best on offer in this contest and Al Boum Photo will hold a freshness advantage over all of his rivals, which counts for plenty at this time of year.
Joe Donnelly’s star found stablemate Kemboy too good in this contest two years ago and will face that same rival tomorrow. However, it would come as no surprise were he able to exact his revenge.
CLAN DES OBEAUX:
Clan Des Obeaux bounced right back to his very best form when bolting-up in the Betway Bowl at Aintree three weeks ago, and it’s no surprise that connections have elected to leave the cheekpieces on tomorrow.
Paul Nicholls’ dual King George winner proved no match for Bristol De Mai in Haydock’s Betfair Chase and never looked comfortable in defence of his crown at Kempton. However, he travelled enthusiastically in the first time headgear at Aintree and, although clearly effective on left-handed tracks, he will certainly be well suited by returning to a right-handed course.
The decent ground is also in his favour and Paul Nicholls has enjoyed a strong end to the National Hunt season in Britain, indicating that his horses remain in good form even at this late stage of the campaign.
Sam Twiston-Davies will reunite with the nine-year-old as Harry Cobden remains sidelined through injury. However, he knows the horse well having been on board for his second King George success and a bold bid seems likely.
Kemboy perhaps paid the price for taking on his stablemate Melon too soon in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas and he made amends for that defeat when getting the better of subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup scorer Minella Indo, amongst others, in the Grade 1 Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February.
That success confirmed that the fire still burns brightly within the talented nine-year-old and a disappointing ninth placed finish in last months Cheltenham Gold Cup does little to dampen enthusiasm given that he has never been seen to best effect in the Cotswolds.
Kemboy lowered the colours of dual Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo in this contest 2 years ago and that same rival may prove to be his chief adversary tomorrow.
Fakir D’oudaries posted a career best effort when streaking clear to record an impressive 12 lengths success in the Melling Chase at Aintree, and he was far from disgraced in placing second behind the awesome Allaho in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham.
However, Joseph O’Brien’s six-year-old was pulled-up on his first outing over 3 miles at Christmas and he will need to see out every yard of this trip given the strength of opposition. It is also a slight concern that he has competed at both Cheltenham and Aintree already, which could easily leave him vulnerable to a fresher rival.
If there is one horse in training whom has failed to accumulate an adequate amount of victories for their undoubted ability then it surely must be Melon, whom has placed second at four Cheltenham Festivals and only has four career victories to his name (1 flat, 2 hurdle races and 1 chase).
The Joe Donnelly owned nine-year-old shaped with distinct promise when placing third behind subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up A Plus Tard and Irish Gold Cup hero Kemboy in the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown in December, and he remains open to improvement over staying trips.
Melon disappointed under hold-up tactics at the Dublin Racing Festival in February and simply didn’t have the gears to lay up with stablemate Allaho in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham. However, he could easily run a big race if connections allow him to stride on and make use of his extremely fluent fencing, and he could easily go close if returning to the form of his third placed effort in December.
Easy Game defeated subsequent Grade 1 scorer The Storyteller when landing the Grade 2 PWC Champion Chase at Gowran Park in October before placing seventh in the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Willie Mullins seven-year-old unseated his jockey next time out before bouncing back to land the Grade 2 Devenish Chase at Fairyhouse three-weeks-ago. However, it goes without saying that these are much deeper waters and Easy Game also has stamina to prove. He is therefore opposable.
Punchestown Gold Cup Prediction:
Clan Des Obeaux bounced back to form with the application of cheekpieces in the Betway Bowl at Aintree and a reproduction of that performance would make him a big player tomorrow, especially now returning to a right-handed track. While impressive Melling Chase scorer Fakir D’oudaries could easily be a big player if seeing out the three mile trip.
Melon could easily find improvement over this distance if allowed to bowl along in-front and put his fluent fencing to good use, and it goes without saying that dual Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Al Boum Photo boasts rock solid claims on the form of his third placed finish at Cheltenham last month.
However, KEMBOY proved too strong for Al Boum Photo in this contest two years ago and he may be able to double-up if allowed to stride-on and dominate.
Willie Mullins’ nine-year-old perhaps paid the price for getting into a battle with Melon when being narrowly denied by subsequent Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase at Christmas, and he went one place better at the Dublin Racing Festival in February when landing the Irish Gold Cup.
Kemboy was spared a hard race in the Cheltenham Gold Cup – on a track that doesn’t suit – and he may be fresher than some of his main market rivals as a result. We know that he is capable over this course and distance and the decent ground will also be in his favour. He therefore makes solid appeal in a tricky looking heat.
It is also worth noting that Willie Mullins has landed four of the last seven renewals of this race, including the last two runnings.