Ryanair Chase winner Balko Des Flos returns to action on Saturday in Gowran Park’s PWC Champion Chase, as Ireland’s jump racing season goes up a gear.
Balko Des Flos, ranked joint-highest with 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John in the Irish handicap ratings after his own Cheltenham Festival win in March, faces nine rivals and is the 5/4 favourite to win with Black Type.
However, A Toi Phil caused a 6/1 upset when beating the then 11/8 favourite in the race last year, and is among those re-opposing, along with 2016 winner Ballycasey.
The PWC Champion Chase is a 2m4f Grade 2 chase run at Gowran Park racecourse. It has a prize fund of €45,000 and is considered the jumps, or National Hunt, season’s first proper test, after the summer break. Legendary chasers like two-time Cheltenham Festival winner Sizing Europe, and the 2005 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Kicking King, have begun their new campaign here, but not always successfully.
Balko Des Flos is the favourite at 5/4, which probably represents value as their are questions surrounding his defeat in this race last year. Why did A Toi Phil, a horse then rated 7lbs inferior, and carrying 5lbs extra weight, defeat Gigginstown House Stud’s star?
In the race, Balko Des Flos’ mistake three fences from home was the turning point. That allowed A Toi Phil through and he just galloped away on the borderline heavy ground. What that result showed is that Balko Des Flos doesn’t jump as well out of testing ground, and a quick flick through the form highlights he’s also better after a longer break.
Balko Des Flos only had 59 days to recover from the biggest win of his short career in the Galway Plate, before this race last year. To win at Galway, he had taken 96 days of the track, and to win at Cheltenham he took 77 days away.
Neither of those factors should be an issue this time as the ground is forecast to be good and Balko Des Flos hasn’t run since the Grand National meeting in April. He has also improved a minimum of 11lbs.
Ballyoisin is the second favourite at 11/4 with William Hill after racking up a hat-trick of wins at Killarney, Punchestown and Listowel. Jockey Barry Geraghty believes he’s a slicker jumper on a left-handed track, the opposite to Gowran, but he does relish good ground and gets that on Saturday.
Having struggled all last winter on testing ground, there could be a lot more to JP McManus’s runner. Unfortunately his price doesn’t make him an each-way proposition, though he could be a nice bet in a straight forecast with Balko Des Flos.
A Toi Phil makes little appeal. He did win the PWC Champion Chase last year, but was perhaps lucky and has since been well beaten twice by Un De Sceaux - the Ryanair Chase second. He had the advantage of race fitness last year too.
His Gordon Elliott-trained stablemate Jury Duty has been tipped up elsewhere to cause a bit of an upset at 16/1 with Coral. After being third to another stablemate Clarcam in the Galway Plate, and seventh in the Kerry National, he’s dropping back in trip for a rare run over less than 2m6f.
In 20 races, the seven-year-old has only tried 2m4f or less five times, and barring his debut in a bumper, he’s finished in the first three in all of those outings. There is something to cling to there, but all those runs have been on soft to heavy ground, which he does seem to need to really shine.
Peregrine Run is the each-way bet. Ninth in the Galway Plate, he went on to win a valuable 2m4f handicap chase at Killarney. He’s now won the last three times he’s run over 2m4f, and has also won four of his eight chase outings. He needs this good ground and looks over-priced at 12/1 with Coral.
Back Peregrine Run each-way at 12/1 for the PWC Champion Chase, and if you can find a place-only or betting without the favourite market, all the better. Trainer Peter Fahey’s team bounced back to form at Gowran Park on Friday.
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