After an entertaining, albeit sometimes frustrating 2018/19 season (ground and equine flu issues), the metaphorical curtains are beginning to descend over the national hunt campaign, to make way for the flat racing calendar.
Sandown earmarked the end of the jumps in the United Kingdom on Saturday, and Ireland says it’s goodbye’s over 5 days at the Punchestown Festival starting on Tuesday, 30/04/2019.
Punchestown is of course Ireland’s equivalent to the Cheltenham Festival, and it’s a mesmerising five days of top class racing, fervent betting heats and of course, plenty of socialising trackside to boot.
Fresh horses tend to a good strategy at this festival, as it’s very hard to do the Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown festival treble, or even a festival double at that! Jessica Lamb explains how special a horse must be to do the Cheltenham, Aintree & Punchestown treble in her latest article.
There are four main big races over the first four days of the 2019 Punchestown Festival and Diarmuid Nolan takes a look at the most likely winners of these Grade One events.
The Punchestown Champion Chase is a Grade 1 steeplechase in Ireland. It is run over a distance of about 2 miles on the first day of the Punchestown Festival and during its running there are eleven fences to be jumped. Some of the greats of racing have won this race including the likes of Sizing Europe, Sprinter Sacre and Moscow Flyer.
17:30 Tuesday, April 30 - LIVE ON: Racing TV & RTE Racing
Simply put, it’s very hard to see Min beaten.
He put in a poor showing at the Cheltenham Festival when connections admitted a new plan of holding him up did not work, apart from this blemish Min has enjoyed a terrific season.
Fantastic Grade One victories such as the John Durkan Chase, here at Punchestown, coupled with wins at Aintree and Leopardstown show just how prolific Willie Mullins’ stable star is.
Last time at Aintree was arguably Min’s greatest ever performance as he easily disfigured a very capable field at his ease. He loves the track, will have no issues dropping back in trip and he looks as close to a “sure thing” as there can be at the Punchestown Festival.
He takes on two of his stablemates including the valiant Un De Sceaux, as Douvan was unfortunately ruled out after yet another injury.
Un De Sceaux is a brilliant horse, but is he losing his battle against time?
Min just doesn’t have these questions to answer, and whilst he’s too short to back for win purposes, it’s definitely foolish to take him on here.
The likes of Great Field and Castlegrace Paddy will make up the field on the day, but they will be running for place money one would have to think
The Punchestown Gold Cup is a Grade 1 steeplechase in Ireland which is open to horses aged five years or older. It is run over a distance of about 3 miles and ½ furlong, and during its running there are seventeen fences to be jumped. The race has thrown up some surprises in the past with such greats as Denman and Kauto Star being beaten by seemingly lesser rivals.
18:05 Wednesday, May 1st - LIVE ON: Racing TV & RTE Racing
Whilst previous Cheltenham Gold Cup winners have come unstuck in the Punchestown equivalent, I struggle to see Al Boum Photo beaten in 2019.
He was simply superb at Prestbury Park, hammering his rivals and seeing out the trip ferociously to win somewhat comfortably from Anibale Fly and Bristol De Mai.
Any stamina concerns were extinguished immediately on that famous day in March, and it can’t be forgotten that he was going to win a Grade One novice chase here at the Punchestown festival in 2018 before his jockey, Paul Townend, infamously opted to bypass the last fence and cost him his chance. Of course, all is now forgiven after Cheltenham!
He has only had 2 runs this year, acts at the course, goes on any ground and should be very hard to stop at Punchestown barring any accidents.
Kemboy is his biggest challenger, and whilst he was electric at Aintree last time, I feel that race was similar to Leopardstown over Christmas, in that he had the run of the race from the front and nothing could land a blow in behind.
He is however, a top class challenger and we are in for a cracking renewal next Wednesday.
The likes of Bellshill and Monalee may be in the field on the day, but I’m not at all convinced they are up to the level of the top two in the betting
Recommended Bet: Al Boum Photo to win the Punchestown Gold Cup at 13/8 with 888Sport
The Champion Stayers Hurdle is a Grade 1 National Hunt hurdle race which is open to horses aged four years or older. It is run over a distance of about 3 miles at Punchestown, and during its running there are fourteen hurdles to be jumped. Great’s such as Quevega, Faugheen and Limestone Lad have won this prestigious race.
17:30 Thursday, May 2nd - LIVE ON: Racing TV & RTE Racing
Another brilliant Grade One to get stuck into at the Punchestown festival, but this is by far the hardest of the “big races” to take apart.
Apple’s Jade leads the market at 3/1 with the best horse racing betting sites and whilst it would be no shock at all were she to be able to win, she’s had a long enough season now and might just struggle after a few tough races this season.
Laurina is the second favourite, and again whilst the raw talent appears to be there, she was found wanting to such a degree in the Champion Hurdle that she’s hard to fully trust in this.
Were the longer trip to be to her liking, then there is an obvious and feasible argument in her favour. It’s just very hard to know how good she is.
It’s been a season of firsts for Willie Mullins in 2019, after he managed to finally triumph in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Irish Grand National, and Bapaume bids for his first win in Ireland since 2017.
Whilst he was very good when 4th at the Cheltenham Festival behind the superb Paisley Park, he just doesn’t win enough and I’m not convinced he properly see’s out three miles either as he always seems to flatten out at the finish.
Benie Des Dieux would be really interesting were she to rock up in this race, but she will most likely be swerved towards the easier option, the valuable Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle on the Saturday of the festival.
The outsiders generally aren’t very exciting, apart from the Dan Skelton trained Aux Ptits Soins.
His participation in this race has to be a concern as he has not been confirmed just yet, but he was brilliant at Aintree over 3 miles, off a big weight in a competitive handicap, and he might just be getting back to his best. That was an unheralded performance when you consider the ease in which he won off such a big weight
He was always a horse who promised so much, but injury held him back for most of his career with Paul Nicholls, which was unfortunate as he looked set for great things after he won the ultra-competitive Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival on his stable debut.
He never quite got back to those heights, but has only gone from strength to strength since joining Dan Skelton’s to now hold a career high mark of 158.
He’s in the form of his life, stays the trip and might take advantage of a field that doesn’t exactly look like your usual Grade One.
The Punchestown Champion Hurdle is a Grade 1 National Hunt race which is open to horses aged four years or older. It is run over a distance of about 2 miles, and during its running there are nine hurdles to be jumped. Faugheen is the last horse to complete the Cheltenham and Punchestown Champion Hurdle double back in 2015.
17:30 Friday, May 3rd - LIVE ON: Racing TV & RTE Racing
For me, after the Gold Cup this looks the race of the week and after a long season, it might just pay to side with a horse who thrives on his race, and Supasundae is exactly that sort of animal.
Buveur D’air is the favourite and as brilliant a horse as he clearly is, he just hasn’t looked the same animal this season and I feel he has to be taken on at his current odds.
Laurina is the second favourite, and as said already, whilst the raw talent appears to be there, she was so bad in the Champion Hurdle that she’s hard to fully trust in this.
It might have simply been an off day, but she can’t be backed at the moment in a race as competitive as this.
Melon is 4/1 with Paddy Power, and if he is ridden with a bit more constraint than he has been the last twice he can get back to winning ways.
It can’t be forgotten that this horse was within a neck of Buveur D’air at the Cheltenham Festival in 2018, ran a blinder to be 3rd this year after questionable tactics in front and was going so well in this race last year before falling and handing the race to Supasundae.
He was unlucky at Aintree as was running well in front before falling 3 out, albeit he had exerted plenty of energy up to that point. That fall might have spared him for this, and is hopefully none the worse for that spill. I would much prefer were connections to return to more conservative hold up tactics in this.
He’s more than good enough and if he bounces back to form he will go very close in the 2019 Punchestown Champion Hurdle.
Supasundae is entered, but I think he exerted enough energy in his brilliant Aintree win. Were he to put that behind him, he would hold every chance, but I’m just not convinced that he will be overly fresh and I’ve long doubted his speed for 2 miles on better ground.
Recommended Bet: Melon to win the Punchestown Champion Hurdle at 4/1 with Paddy Power
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