No jumps racing in Britain until Cheltenham’s Hunter Chase night on Friday, but the opening Day of the five-day Punchestown Festival is today’s feature meeting with three Grade 1 races on a terrific seven-race card.
It is hard to see beyond Min (5.30) in the Champion Chase despite a laboured run in the Cheltenham equivalent back in March on his penultimate start. He is best judged on his most recent effort when he was a facile winner of the Melling Chase at Aintree when making all over two-and-a-half miles.
He is unlikely to get a soft lead with stablemate – and last year’s winner Un De Sceaux – in the field and it is worth noting that he was a beaten odds on favourite in the corresponding race 12 months ago. At 8/13 with BetVictor he is the most likely winner although he is, arguably, better over an additional half-mile.
There were few more impressive Cheltenham winners than Klassical Dream (4.20) who is unbeaten in three starts over timber having landed the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in March albeit on soft ground. The selection has never raced right-handed, but he beat subsequent Aintree winner Felix Desjy by 11l at the Festival and at 4/6 with BetVictor he is another short-priced favourite who should take all the beating.
The Champion Novice Chase over 3m is one of the most eagerly-awaited contests of the whole Festival with A Plus Tard – who did us a favour when landing the Close Brothers’ Novices’ Handicap Chase at Cheltenham – stepping up in trip and class for Henry de Bromhead and Rachel Blackmore.
If we saw a Gold Cup winner in this year’s RSA Chase I thought it was third home Delta Work (6.40) rather than the winner – Topofthegame – or runner up Santini. Gordon Elliot’s 6-y-old had won the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham 12 months earlier and has the scope to go to the very top over fences.
The selection is 6/4 with BetVictor and he gets the nod ahead of Getabird who has not been seen out since blundering at the last and snatching defeat from the jaws of victory at Limerick (2m 4f) on Boxing Day. Ruby Walsh keeps the ride and he has been backed from 7s to 11/2 at BetVictor over the weekend. His stamina must be taken on trust, but he is held in high regard by all at the Willie Mullins yard.
At Nottingham Space Blues (2.00) looked a non-stayer when beaten over 6L at Newbury over 10f on his seasonal reappearance, but he had looked potentially smart when beating Private Secretary – Sandown Handicap winner Friday – on debut over today’s C&D. Charlie Appleby’s colt still holds an entry in the Derby but connections obviously feel he has enough pace for a mile.
Junooh looked a sure-fire future winner when fifth in the Wood Ditton at Newmarket behind the impressive UAE Jewel. He must go close with a cracking draw in stall two this afternoon, but marginal preference is for Roseman (2.35) who represents the same stable as the Newmarket winner and shaped with considerable promise when third at Newbury on debut earlier in the month.
If there is a bit of cut in the ground – forecast good to soft – then Existential (3.35) can make a winning return for Clive Cox and Adam Kirby. The selection won over C&D back in August and looked a non-stayer when beaten over an additional quarter of a mile back in October.
Canavese (4.05) promises to be suited to the step up to 10f in the fillies’ handicap for Eve Johnson Houghton. I remember seeing the filly finish runner up – well supported – at Salisbury – on her penultimate start as a juvenile and thinking she may have more to offer this term stepping up in distance.
For all your racing odds go to BetVictor.com