The first day of the Punchestown Festival is today’s highlight with three Grade 1’s and the return to the saddle of Ruby Walsh for the first time since sustaining a wrist injury at Aintree earlier in the month.
Walsh rides the unbeaten (under rules) Cheltenham/Aintree scorer Yorkhill (4.20) in the Champion Novice with the 6-year-old dropping back in trip having won over an additional half mile at both earlier spring Festivals. The selection only has 3lbs in hand on stablemate Petit Mouchoir on official figures but I am a big fan of Yorkhill and this will tell us if he will be campaigned with the Champion Hurdle in mind for next season.
The selection is ½ at BetVictor and did have a hard race at Aintree but British raider Charbel should ensure there is a decent gallop and I will be disappointed if he doesn’t maintain his unbeaten record over timber.
Enda Bolger has saddled the winner of the opener five times in the last six years and has three of the 11 who go to post including the last two winners Wish Ye Didn’t, mount of Nina Carberry, and Be Positive but the vote goes to the 5-year-old Strangford Lough (3.40) who will be ridden by Jamie Codd who was such an able deputy for Carberry at Aintree aboard On The Fringe.
I hope the better ground sees Seven Nation Army (4.55) finally break his duck over timber; the grey won two Bumpers for David Pipe before a frustrating run of seconds and he travelled like much the best horse for much of the race before coming down at the last, looked held, at Fairyhouse last time. That was his first start for the best part of four months, however, and he is entitled to come on for the run; he can reward each way support in an ultra-competitive 21-runner handicap.
I’m really looking forward to seeing Simonsig (5.30) back over fences and he gets the each way vote at 10/1 with BetVictor against Vautour who drops back to the minimum trip of 2m for the first time this season. Vautour was magnificent at both Kempton (runner up to Cue Card in the King George) and Cheltenham (won the Ryanair) but fell at Aintree last time and had not looked perhaps at his sparkling best prior to his fall. The selection is 10/1 at BetVictor and can reward each way support.
Nicky Henderson also saddles impressive Newbury winner Jenkins (6.05) in the Goffs Bumper and he has booked Patrick Mullins for the ride; the Lambourn handler thinks a fair amount of this 4-y-old who won by no fewer than 9L on debut.
Connections suggested they might retire Grand National winner Rule The World after his Aintree success but that plan has been shelved and he looks the best of the home challenge (6/1 with BetVictor) with David Mullins again in the saddle with Brian Cooper riding the 5/2 favourite Outlander.
As long as there is no further significant rain, however, I am going to be with Harry Fry’s Henryville (4/1 with BetVictor) who impressed when scoring at Exeter last time; the selection will be fresher than most and I always thought he could make up into a top-class chaser. This is the acid test and one I feel he can pass.
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