2014 Punchestown Festival Day Two: Preview, Trends, Tips
Day One saw crowd-delighting performances from an old friend - Sizing Europe - and a new superstar - Faugheen - and Day Two has a tough act to follow. It's competitive fare, all right, but may just lack that electric flair of the first afternoon at the Kildare track.
The tapes rise for the first race at 3.40 for a handicap hurdle, the...
3.40 MARTINSTOWN OPPORTUNITY SERIES FINAL HANDICAP HURDLE
A placepot whittler to tee us off, as 25 - yes, twenty-five - horses are scheduled to line up in this two and a half mile handicap hurdle. Although Willie Mullins won this in 2010 with a 7/2 favourite, the usual 'don't take a short price in a race like this' rule applies. Mullins' nag aside, the odds of the winners in recent years have been 12/1 twice and 25/1 twice.
Although only one of the ten winners of this race to date also won last time out, nine of the ten finished in the top four last time out. That's 90% of the winners from 45% of the runners.
All age groups between four and nine have recorded a victory, with the best place percentages from those aged four to seven.
Weight has had no bearing, with five winners carrying eleven stone or more.
All ten winners had run within the last 60 days, from 75% of the runners.
13 of the 41 placed horses ran at Fairyhouse last time out. That equates to 25% of such runners. Nine of the ten winners had previously run at Punchestown, with six of them having made the frame previously, and four of them winning.
So we might be looking for a top four last time out finish, a recent run, and maybe marking up form at both Fairyhouse and Punchestown. A trends shortlist, then, is Highbrow Blue, Go Paddy Go, Ghareer, Master Oscar, and Diyala.
The jolly looks like being Sea Light, a horse that hasn't run for three months, and hasn't run over this distance before. He's far from certain to get the trip, and the price is just unplayable. He has won on good ground however, and ran a very solid race in defeat to the improving Gilgamboa. It looks like a literal interpretation of that form (Gilgamboa now rated 140, Sea Light rated 117) has been taken by the market, but the winner there was 15 lengths clear of Sea Light and was not rated 140 then.
He can win - like any other horse in the race, or indeed any race, can - but he's zero value.
Highbrow Blue, the second in at around 5/1, won a beginners' chase last time beating some very moderate animals. It looks like he might be a better chaser than hurdler, but assuming he's well handicapped on the back of that run in a different discipline could prove costly. It's certainly been factored into his price which, again, is tight.
Let's change the record, and look at some profile horses at prices. We'll start with 33/1 pokey, Mrs Mac Veal. She might be too high in the weights now, but she managed to win three straight, including over course and distance, at the end of last year, and she goes on decent ground.
Of more interest is Aladdin's Cave, who was having his first run since last Summer when eighth just ten days ago. He'll have come on for that, clearly, and had won his previous two races, including on good ground. That last day run was at Fairyhouse, which has been a good pointer to the winner of this race, and he was placed here way back in 2009 in a field of 25. 18/1, five places, is attractive.
On The Way Out may be just that at the age of eleven, but he's been placed in two of his three hurdle runs at the track (fell at the first the other time), and he has some form on top of the ground. He might prefer it softer, and he might be too old, but 20/1 is probably a touch too big.
And Foot Soldier looks a massive price, at around 33/1. He loves fast ground - five placed efforts from six starts on good - and he's run well in big field handicap hurdles. Just four pounds above his last winning mark, and coming here off the back of a bronze medal in a big field on his first attempt at around this trip, he's an each way definite.
Hat-trick seeking Maguire's Glen is interesting, but has a ten pound hike to defy for his in-form trainer, and probably needs it softer. And Ghareer and Flatfoot Boogie cannot be discounted either, despite their advancing years.
Obviously a fiendish race, it's worth taking a couple of juicy odds against the melee. My pair are Aladdin's Cave and Foot Soldier, both of whom have very solid profiles at very large prices. I won't be going mad, but I will be backing them, each way a pleasure, sir. Plenty of bookies are offering five places on this race, and Betbright are 18/1 (though not BOG) on the former, .
4.20 LOUIS FITZGERALD HOTEL HURDLE
Time is pressing, so I'll get straight to it here. This looks a really fine opportunity for former Cheltenham Champion Bumper winner Cheltenian to score. He loves quick ground, is the highest rated and the best in at the weights, and he ran a cracker when fourth in a big field Grade 3 handicap hurdle at Aintree. There are no obvious Grade 3 horses in this field, and I think he'll probably win.
Le Vent d'Antan should be on the premises - he pretty much always is - but his win record is disappointing and he normally finds a way to get beaten.
The fly in the ointment could be Willie Mullins' apparent first string, Val De Ferbet. You know as much about him as I do, and quite possibly more, but the fact that Ruby hops on him ahead of the well suited if exposed Beluckyagain, nods to the ex-Frenchie's prospects. He'll still have to be pretty good, mind, to roll over Cheltenian.
The other possible buzzer in the tonic is Carraig Mor. The King squad clearly think a lot of him, but he's been painful to follow. Defeats at 1/8 (ouch!!!) and 4/6 (ouch) in his last two runs could perhaps be attributed to the bugs in the yard earlier in the season, and if that is the case, he'll be a player as he doesn't have that much to find with Cheltenian.
Possible danger: Carraig Mor
4.55 IRISH DAILY MIRROR NOVICE HURDLE (Grade 1)
A scorching three mile novice hurdle to kick the jackpot off. Surprisingly, perhaps, none of the recent alumni have gone on to great things, though last year's winner, Morning Assembly, is a smart staying novice chaser this term. A convergence of Cheltenham and Aintree form is in store, with the winners of the Martin Pipe, Albert Bartlett, and Sefton Hurdles all lining up.
Bizarrely, perhaps, none of the 23 last time out winners was able to win this too. However, it should be said that this is probably the highest class field assembled for the race and I'd like a bit of evens on a last time out winner taking the pot this year!
Nine of the ten winners to date (90%) were aged five or six, from 64% of the runners.
The favourite is Beat That, who won well at Aintree in the Sefton Novices' Hurdle. With the 155-rated Seeyouatmidnight patently failing to run to his mark there, the form looks solid but unspectacular. And I'm mindful of Nicky Henderson saying that jockey Barry Geraghty feels he had a hard race at Aintree. They'll take no prisoners here and, if that Aintree run has left its mark, Beat That won't be winning.
Still, he's the second-top rated horse and must have a good chance.
Don Poli it top rated, two pounds higher than Beat That, after bolting up in the Martin Pipe off 11-05. He's been put up ten pounds for that performance, which doesn't look harsh. However, the way that race was run could be very different to how this one pans out, with no huge pace angle.
Like Don Poli, Very Wood is owned by Gigginstown, and his 33/1 shocker in the potato race franked the form of Briar Hill, behind whom he'd finished on his previous start. And yet there was no fluke to the victory, with the second and third being the 'right' horses. Indeed, the third, Apache Jack, re-opposes here and may be better suited to what will be a more sedate gallop.
The score between Don and Apache is 1-1, as the latter beat the form in that Briar Hill race, and could be the better tactical runner.
Both are course winners, which you'll know by now that I like, as is Lots Of Memories, who has been overlooked in the market somewhat. Rated 144 after hacking up in a big field handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse over Easter, he has a different class of beast in opposition this day, but he's earned a tilt at them. He was good enough to win a bumper at this meeting last year, beating none other than Beat That, today's favourite, as well as other good horses in Real Steel and Sizing Chile.
Beat That will take some beating, but he's not an attractive price given the concern about his Aintree exertions. Don Poli and Very Wood are hard to separate, but the former may have more tactical speed for a race like this. Apache Jack and Lots Of Memories make some appeal in an each way sense.
Don Poli looks like the most likely winner, but I think I'm leaning each way towards Apache Jack and Lots Of Memories.
5.30 PUNCHESTOWN GOLD CUP (Grade 1)
The feature on Day Two is the Punchestown Gold Cup, a sort of consolation Gold Cup for Cheltenham also-rans. It's a very difficult race to forecast with if's and but's about the entire field, though one does have a more robust profile than the rest.
15 of the last 17 winners finished in the top four last time out
16 of the last 17 winners were aged seven to ten
9 of the last 17 winners ran at Cheltenham last time out, and 11 of the 17 winners had previously won at Punchestown
As I wrote, there are more questions than answers here, with only one horse even remotely resembling a 'likely winner'. However, there may still be pockets of value. The favourite is Boston Bob on the basis of his win in the two and a half mile Melling Chase. Despite his trainer saying Bob didn't like that trip, he's actually unbeaten in six over it (!), and has never won beyond two miles five. I don't expect him to start here, and he looks opposable.
Stablemate On His Own is very unlucky not to be the Gold Cup winner, and if he's over that run, he is the probable form pick. He has assured stamina, and a progressive look, and good ground clearly holds no fears. I readily prefer him to Boston Bob, in spite of the jockey bookings.
Lyreen Legend would have been interesting but seems to have been Pricewised, meaning any value in her price (and there wasn't much in any case) has now evaporated. She bungled a fence late on in the Gold Cup but had travelled well to that point. Still, she's not sufficiently disparate in odds to On His Own against that level of form, and On His Own can back his win up with a progressive sequence, something nothing else in this field can.
Argocat and Long Run are the joint-second highest rated in the field. When you consider that Long Run has dropped from 182 two years ago, to 170 a year ago, to 162 here, the regressive writing is on the wall. Argocat is flat bred and surely cannot win an extended three mile Grade 1.
First Lieutenant has looked out of love with things this season, and it requires a significant leap of faith to support him, unless you believe the first time blinkers can perk him up. They're hardly a vote of confidence in his resolution though...
The rest are varying degrees of outclassed.
On His Own 'deserves' to win a race like this. As silly as such a statement is, he also has the form to back it up, and looks suited to conditions. The one reservation is that he might be over the top after that super-close Gold Cup second. If he's not, he looks perfectly fairly priced with Ruby Walsh on the wrong one (to my eye, at least). He's 18/5 with Betbright as I write.
6.05 ATTHERACES.COM CHAMPION INH FLAT RACE (Grade 1)
A white hot bumper, featuring the 1-2-4-6 from Cheltenham, and some thoroughly unexposed, unbeatean 'could be anything' types adding to the mix. Probably a race to watch more than wager, though it does rank as leg five of the Pick 6 and leg three of the jackpot!
Willie Mullins, Mr Bumper, has won this in three of the last six years.
Last time out winners won nine of the last seventeen
Cheltenham Bumper runners have won five of the last seventeen, with three of them having won the Cheltenham Bumper
All bar one winner had had two or more runs
Silver Concorde was a strong travelling easy winner of the Cheltenham Bumper and sets the standard. Closest to him that day was Shaneshill, and he may again be closest here. He goes on the ground - which will be very similar to Cheltenham - and he was two lengths and more better than any other re-opposing runners today.
Both Shaneshill and stablemate Black Hercules could be open to a hint more improvement than the favourite, having had one less career start each, but in truth the form of that Cheltenham race looks solid, and it would be a braver player than me who wagered on a reversal of placings. That's not to say it won't happen, of course, but rather that the prices have it spot on in my view.
Plenty of winners of this race did not come from Cheltenham last time out though, and that might be the value opportunity. Jollyallan routed a Wincanton bumper field on his sole start and was snapped up by JP McManus afterwards. He's been pleasing Harry Fry, and Harry Fry is after all Harry Fry, comfortably the highest win percentage trainer of the season, with a preposterous 29% win rate from all runners. Whether he's up to this, who knows? But both he and travelling companion, Fletchers Flyer later on, must be highly regarded to have made the trip.
An interesting one - in a field full of interesting ones - is Riviera Sun. Henry de Bromhead's runner wasn't beaten far by Shaneshill on his debut, and showed improvement to take a Down Royal bumper in impressive fashion last time. He's open to considerable improvement, again a comment that is virtually universally applicable, but he might just be a sliver of value in the guessing game away from the Cheltenham form. He's 28/1 with sportingbet and 12/1 with 888sport. One of those two has got him badly wrong!
Favourite Silver Concorde is a strong travelling type who won going away at Cheltenham last time. If he comes here in the same mood, he looks likely to win again. As a bit of a stab in the dark against him, Riviera Sun may run well at a large price (28/1 sportingbet)
6.40 GUINNESS HANDICAP CHASE (Grade A)
The big betting race of the night is the Guinness Handicap Chase, a Grade A contest over two and a half miles.
Just ten renewals to date.
Only three of the ten winners were placed 1-2-3 last time out, one in each position. It may pay to be a bit more esoteric in your thinking...
9 of the 10 winners were rated 140 or lower
All ten winners ran in the last 60 days
5 of the 10 winners ran at Fairyhouse last time out, with none of the eleven backing up from the Irish National winning.
The one with the best profile fit for the rest is Wise Old Owl. John Kiely's ten year old has been lightly race in recent seasons, with just three starts since October 2010. Given he's owned by JP McManus, the fact that he has remained in training is a clue to his retained ability, and he has slumped a stone for sitting in his box. Talented amatuer, Ger Fox, nicks another seven off his back giving him an effective mark of 128, which looks lenient in the context of a Galway Plate second in 2012.
Of course, that was two years ago, but he's 12/1 not 4/1, and could be very well handicapped on this return from a layoff.
Pass The Hat is the favourite, for Arthur Moore, winning trainer in 2008. This fellow will be suited by trip and ground, but he may not have that much scope after a dozen chase starts already. And only one last time out winner has landed this prize in the ten years it has been run: most victors have done a better job of hiding their ability light under a bushel.
Stable mate, Mitebeall Forluck, looks more interesting. Sneaking in off bottom weight, he's a six year old novice, and steps up to this trip for the first time. After just six runs, those are two reasons to believe improvement backons, and 16/1 is far from harsh, especially given his best run was three starts back on this ground (two stuck in the mud efforts since). Trends followers might be interested to know that he last ran at Fairyhouse - the only member of the field so to do - and half of the ten renewals of this race have gone to last-time-Fairyhousers.
Paul Nicholls make a fairly rare foray to this meeting, with Grandioso. Although he has plenty of weight, he is well suited to two and a half on decent ground, as he showed when winning a Grade 2 novice chase at Kempton five starts back. 145 (less three for Harry Derham's claim) gives him plenty of weight but does not look over-zealous in the context of his form.
And King Vuvuzela has made the frame on four of his six visits to Punchestown, which immediately gains my attention. They include a win and a third late last year, and he has a lovely racing weight near the foot of the handicap. Definite place prospects.
I think Wise Old Owl could be very well handicapped if fit after a long absence. 12/1 merits taking the chance. A couple of others to stand out to my eye are Mitebeall Forluck, the bottom weight, who has a few things going for him, most notably the first time change of trip which could eke chunky improvement; and King Vuvuzela, a course specialist who has run well recently in better races.
7.15 O´REILLY RECRUITMENT INH FLAT RACE
Nothing from me here, except to say that when I interviewed Harry Fry last year for a stable tour he nominated Fletcher's Flyer as one to follow. He takes his chance in this race, and it's a long way from Dorset to County Kildare...