2014 Punchestown Festival Day Three Preview, Trends, Tips
It's the middle day of five at Punchestown's Spring Festival - also known as Day Three - and this afternoon the likes of Champagne Fever and Quevega will be doing their thing. It kicks off at 3.40 with one of those impossible 25 runner handicap hurdles, the...
3.40 COLM MURRAY MEMORIAL HANDICAP HURDLE
Yes, 25 of them go to post, and you'll need more than luck in running to get paid on the first race winner. Some of those 'generous' bookie types are offering five places, so do scout out that if you can. The 7/2 favourite - available at 5's early - was fifth yesterday for the same concession, so each way players there stole their money back.
I'm a bit pushed for time today so will kick on into what I think has a chance...
Halling's Treasure is the one to catch my eye. He's a lightly raced novice - just five hurdle starts - and has placed form behind Ivan Grozny and Adriana Des Mottes. That reads well in the context of a 0-123 handicap, and he's in here off just 116. Not only that, but as a four year old, he gets a weight allowance meaning he carries just 10-11. It looks like he's been aimed at this and, while his last run (under similar conditions) was a poor one, that may have been a mark-managing manoeuvre. Heaven forbid!
20/1 offers bags of scope to have called that totally wrong, and he's an each way bet.
Macnicholson has been raced 'honestly' and has very little preserved from the handicapper, but he's tough, consistent and has the considerable support of Barry Geraghty who, as my mate Hairy Ben of Narrowing The Field, says, "He doesn't f@ck around!".
Of the McManus rank, I prefer Golden Ticket to McCoy's mount, Time Please. Again, the Ticket seems well suited to conditions: he won a bumper here (25 runners) in 2011, and ran third in a big field over course and distance a couple of years back. He's seven pounds lower than that day now, and his Punchestown predilection projects him from the pack for punting purposes. 😉
The completely unexposed Vive La France is having his first run for Tony Martin since coming over from, you guessed it, France. Sitting snugly in the 'could be anything' compartment, market support would be of interest.
I'm siding with Halling's Treasure (20/1) and Golden Ticket (14/1), each way the pair, five places. I'll have Macnicholson and a couple of others slotted into the 'pot permutations.
4.15 THREE.IE HANDICAP CHASE (Grade C)
Another whopper field handicap, this time over fences, and there's a shortie in the pack. Ned Buntline is just 4/1 - 10/1 bar - and given he was second in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham last time, that might be fair enough. He carries 11-05 here, and though nine of the last ten winners lugged eleven stone or less, the classy Twinlight did hump top weight to victory last year. So a classy one can defy the burden, and he's a classy one.
Those with track form include Way Up In The Air and Passage Vendome, as well as Mallowney and another classy sort, Mount Colah.
Way Up In The Air has been in pretty good form, and gets in here off a light weight. Although he might prefer it softer, he has form on this sort of ground, and has been placed in three of his four Punchy runs.
Passage Vendome was third here in a Grade 2 late last year, albeit beaten twenty lengths, and that form stacks up fairly well. As long as there isn't too much rain, the good to yielding will be spot on for him, and he's capable of getting competitive off 135 for last year's winning trainer, Willie Mullins.
Mallowney looks high enough in the weights, and shouldn't be able to beat Mount Colah on today's terms, but he is consistent and he will like conditions. Mount Colah, for his part, has mixed it with some smart ones this term (or, officially, last term, as the season changed after Saturday!), but he too looks susceptible to something with less lead and perhaps less in the way of public form.
And one who has been mixing hurdles and chasing effectively this season, and seems to revel in big fields, is Dick Dundee. There will probably be something to beat him, but whether there are four to keep him out of the frame is another question. At 28/1, it's worth asking that question.
I think Passage Vendome looks likely to run a bold race, and 28/1 is pretty chunky. Mallowney can again run well, and similarly Ned Buntline could also have the class to defy his weight.
4.50 AVON RI CORPORATE & LEISURE RESORT CHASE
A four mile and a furlong cross country chase, and it's specialists to the fore, and recent winners have been Big Shu, Uncle Junior Garde Champetre, L'Ami and Spot Thedifference.
Duke Of Lucca may be plenty short enough at 15/8, but he was a very solid third in the Cheltenham Cross Country, and followed that up with victory at Aintree. We know he likes these fences, we know he's in form, and he's favourably treated by the race conditions: he's rated eleven pounds superior to all bar Bishopsfurze and yet has to concede no more than five pounds to any except a complete rag.
Bishopsfurze is ostensibly two pounds 'well in' with Duke Of Lucca, but the thing can't jump. In fact, he's so hopelessly guess-y at some fences that I wonder if he might be partially sighted. He absolutely walked into a bank - literally - here in the PP Hogan in February and, as risky propositions go, he's up there with walking across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope. I'm actually surprised that connections are trying anything except hurdles with him, such is the folly of his fencing. Hopefully, he'll at least stay safe today.
All that said, if he did jump round, he'd have a very good chance. Which, of course, is like saying if I did manage to tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon, it would look very impressive.
Uncle Junior is 95 now. OK, he's 13, and Spot Thedifference won at 14. But Uncle, likeable as he undoubtedly is, is no Spot. He should get outpaced, even over this marathon trip.
Of the Bolger battallion, Quiscover Fontaine doesn't really stay this far; Keep On Track doesn't get three miles, let alone four; and Quantitiveeasing has to overcome this run at Cheltenham in the Cross Country last time, "Always in rear, well behind from 25th, tailed off". He was last of the 13 finishers.
If you want a massive priced outsider with a sniff of a squeak of a hint of an inkling of a chance, try the fifteen-year-old, Lydon House. Yes, he's older than the hills. True, he hasn't won since 2010. And, I know, his jockey is super-inexperienced. But... he's finished sixth in this last year, and second in it the year before. I'm not expecting a miracle but 40/1 in the 'without Duke of Lucca' market may be a tiny shard of value, each way.
Whichever way you cut it, Duke Of Lucca has an o.u.t.s.t.a.n.d.i.n.g. chance here, and 15/8 may be a touch of value given the paucity of opposition.
5.30 LADBROKES WORLD SERIES HURDLE (Grade 1)
At last, the good stuff. And it's really good stuff, too. A three mile Grade 1 hurdle, featuring Quevega, At Fishers Cross, Fingal Bay, and Bog Warrior. Quevega hasn't lost since she left France nine starts ago, and that sequence includes five Mares' Hurdles and four of these. That rather renders trends meaningless in the race, so we'll have to rely on the good old form book.
The book tells us Quevega is five pounds superior to her nearest rival, At Fishers Cross, and she gets a seven pound sex allowance. However, she has not necessarily run to her official mark in her last few runs, and the signs are that she's beginning the inevitable decline that we all suffer (some sooner than others!)
She has normally performed to a higher standard at Punchestown on her second start after the long layoff than at Cheltenham on her first run, and we should expect that again. All of which means I suspect Quevega will probably run to around 160, which will probably be enough to win.
Of the opposition, it's interesting that At Fishers Cross makes the ferry crossing. He was beaten fair and square by More Of That and Annie Power at Cheltenham; and was then seen off by Whisper at Aintree. He was previously beaten by the re-opposing Knockara Beau and, all things considered, he's a pretty short price (around 9/2).
Fingal Bay steps back up from handicap company, and it was a really solid effort in winning the Pertemps Final with top weight. He's a fresh horse coming into this, and could have more to offer, a comment which doesn't apply to many of these.
Bog Warrior is a bit of a binary type: when he's good he's very good, but he's perfectly capable of clunkers. Fortunately for his followers here, most of his abominations seem to be reserved for the chase track, and he's a talented hurdler. He beat subsequent World Hurdler, Solwhit, in a two and a half mile hurdle on his sole Punchestown run and, while he might like it a bit quaggier, I'm backing him each way here, in spite of my own 'binary' comment above.
6.05 NAAS COURT HOTEL AND IL FICO RESTAURANT HANDICAP HURDLE
Another monster field handicap, and it should be a placepot worth having tonight. I certainly hope so. This one is over three miles, and it will take some getting with a likely fierce gallop from the flag fall.
The Crafty Butcher has earned his top weight stripes here, and was third in one of the huge field handicap hurdles at the meeting last year. That was his only run at the track, but in eight runs in 16+ runner fields, he's made the frame six times. That sort of affection for the hurly-burly of a heat such as this is appealing, and the boy Ger Fox hacks off seven pounds, bringing The Crafty Butcher down to a slightly more manageable 11-5.
Last year's winner carried 11-4 and in 2011 the winner had 11-8, so he won't necessarily be beaten by the weight. At 20/1, five places, he's in my corner.
Our Man Zebo has our man, Geraghty, who - as we've established - does not mither about. He ran a good second to Lots Of Memories last time, off close to level weights, and that one was only beaten two and a half lengths by Beat That, and less than two by Don Poli, last night. Collaterally, then, he looks the one to beat. He's also shown he can handle a big field as there were 22 in that contest.
Inis Meain reverts to hurdles after winning and running third in a pair of Listed events on the flat. Obviously a classy sort, he's shown all his best form in the winter game on a softer surface. While he clearly has a chance, he's short enough and I favour Zebo of the top pair in the market.
The second reserve, who currently needs another one to come out, is Allez Vic and, if he gets a run, he's a well weighted well suited horse for this sort of a big field three miler.
Moonlight Boy also looks of interest. A bit of a winning machine for Christy Roche, he actually won over two miles last time out and steps up 50% in trip here. He'd previously won a point to point over three miles, and was second two starts back over two and a half. He's got bags of scope and is improving apace. Tony McCoy rides.
And another improving novice is Bob Keown. Rebecca Curtis' lad is a prominent race, which could be advantageous in such a big field, and wants decent ground, as he had when third in a big field novice handicap at Cheltenham a fortnight ago.
It's clearly a very tricky race, and I think Our Man Zebo and Moonlight Boy should run well. At bigger prices, both The Crafty Butcher and Allez Vic - with a run - make some appeal.
6.40 RYANAIR NOVICE CHASE (Grade 1)
A cracking two mile novice chase, arguably the highlight of the night.
Champagne Fever, winner of the Champion Bumper here two years ago, but only third when evens in the Champion Novice Hurdle here last year, is again a short priced favourite. He probably deserves to be on the balance of his form, but he has looked more beatable over fences than in late season over hurdles or on the level.
Although I think he has the best chance to win, I don't think he's any value at all, and so I'm looking further down the lists. Balder Succes was impressive at Aintree, having given Cheltenham the swerve, and he comes here a relatively fresh horse. But it's questionable what he beat that day, with Simply Ned not a Grade 1 animal, and Trifolium maybe flattening out for the season. Still, he did do it well there.
Felix Yonger had looked smart early in the season when beating both Defy Logic and Trifolium, and again ran well in defeat to Limerick course specialist The Paparazzi Kid at that track. A defeat on heavy ground to Trifolium may have been down to the ground (never won on it), and he may have failed to stay in a true run two and a half miler at Cheltenham.
A lot of if's and but's there, but the long and short of it is that two miles on decent ground could be optimal for Felix and 7/1 looks a knocking each way bet to my eye.
As I've written, I think Trifolium may have run his best races this season, and although I might be wrong, I'm happy enough to oppose him here.
It's 25/1 bar, but none of the four at bigger prices look capable of taking down the major market forces.
Felix for me, from Balder and Champagne.
There are two further races on the card, but neither are needed for placepot, jackpot or Pick 6 purposes, so you're on your own!