There’s an extra attraction for racegoers at the Punchestown Festival 2017 this week and that is the showdown for the trainers’ title between defending champion, Willie Mullins, and the young pretender, Gordon Elliott.
Herald Champion Novice Hurdle
Elliott has a healthy lead and everything will have to fall right for Mullins if he is to close the gap, but we think he can get off to the best possible start in the fixture’s first Grade 1, the Champion Novice Hurdle.
It is a clash within a clash as Mullins and Elliott train the two, clear market leaders. They are also the pair that fought out the finish of the Supreme at the Cheltenham Festival and we believe MELON can reap his revenge here.
There is always the risk that his rival Labaik won’t consent to start (the grey has refused to race four times in his last eight starts), but even if he does we prefer the Mullins runner who ran a race full of promise at Cheltenham given that it was only his second start over hurdles.
With only 7 runners it is hard to find an each-way angle although Pingshou should run well again for Colin Tizzard after impressing when winning at Aintree recently.
If you do prefer Lebaik, it’s worth noting that BetVictor will refund all losing bets (as cash) if he refuses to start again – as part of their #RunForYourMoney concession.
They have now refunded on 180 horses who have lost all chance at the start of their race and not given customers a fair crack of the whip – click here for a £40 bonus.
|Melon (win)||4.20 Punchestown||11/8||William Hill|
Boylesports Champion Chase
The next Grade 1 also has a Mullins runner at the head of the betting, but we think FOX NORTON can beat Un De Sceaux here. Both horses have had fine seasons and Un De Sceaux may be the fresher after skipping Aintree, but Fox Norton was very impressive there and may just have underfoot conditions more to his liking.
With eight due to go to post there is every chance of something hitting the frame at a bigger price and the one we like is the Mullins second string, BALLYCASEY.
It is true that he may want a bit more give in the ground, but he has been a revelation since being dropped back in trip recently and his usually fine jumping could keep him in touch with the best of these until deep into the contest.
|Fox Norton (ew)||5.30 Punchestown||4/1||Sky Bet|
|Ballycasey (ew)||5.30 Punchestown||33/1||Paddy Power, Betfair|
Growise Champion Novice Chase
The opening day’s trio of Grade 1’s is completed by the Champion Novices Chase over 3m at 6.40pm.
There is another solid looking favourite here in the shape of Disko, but he has to prove he truly stays this trip and ANIBALE FLY may be the one to exploit any weakness in that department.
Our selection won really well at this meeting last year over hurdles, and whilst his form over fences has been mixed he comes here fresher than his rivals having skipped both of the big festivals in England.
|Anibale Fly (ew)||6.40 Punchestown||11/2||Sky Bet|
Killashee Handicap Hurdle
We do think Elliott will have at least one winner during the day as VEINARD is our main selection in the handicap hurdle at 4.55pm.
Outsider WESTERN BOY should run well too as he may well have won this race last year but for slipping up after the second last. He runs off the same mark today.
|Veinard (ew)||4.55 Punchestown||9/2||Bet365|
|Western Boy (ew)||4.55 Punchestown||14/1||Stan James|
Finally, there are two bumpers on the card that look very hard to solve, but if you do want to have a bet on them, then our tentative selections are STACKS MOUTAIN and HOLLOWGRAPHIC in the 6.05pm (look out too for Fortune Street at a monster price), and CURIOUS TIMES and POTTSIE in the 7.15pm.
|Stacks Mountain (ew)||6.05 Punchestown||16/1||Bet365|
|Hollowgraphic (ew)||6.05 Punchestown||10/1||Paddy Power, Betfair|
|Curious Times (ew)||7.15 Punchestown||28/1||Bet365|
|Pottsie (ew)||7.15 Punchestown||16/1||Bet365|