What a line up Punchestown have for us this week. The 5 day festival has arguably its highest quality line up ever this year. The first day kicks off tomorrow with Sprinter Sacre the star attraction in the Grade 1 Champion Chase. He faces just four opponents including the vanquished Sizing Europe who he beat easily at the Cheltenham Festival this year. You can back him at 1/6 if you want to buy some money but most of us will just enjoy watching this super star in action.
The supporting races are not half bad either with two other Grade 1’ prizes up for grabs. They are both novice events, one a hurdle race over two miles and the other a long distance staying chase. Both events pitch the best of the Irish Novices against each other with Harry Topper the only non Irish runner in the Novice Chase. The big question as the National Hunt season closes is whether these novices can hold their form following a busy season.
Champagne Fever & Jezki will have had a full 6 weeks to recover from their exertions in the Supreme Novices hurdle by tomorrow which was of a very, very high standard this year. Honestly, I cannot see the winner coming from anywhere but these two who are evenly matched at 6/4 with the bookies. Rule the World has been backed today but over two miles he may lack the gears to win this race as his future lies over fences next season. Ted Veale is no back number having done our members a good turn by winning the County Hurdle at Cheltenham.
However this is a huge step up in class for him while the same can be said for Mallowney & Art of Logistics. The later would prefer the ground to be good or better as well. I will nail my colours to the Willie Mullins runner and hopefully Champagne Fever can get us all off to a flier on the festivals first day with the soft ground suiting him more than Jezki. He won the champion bumper at Punchestown last year on heavy ground following his Cheltenham Festival bumper win so hopefully he can do the festivals double once again.
Eye Catchers Report Aintree Festival & Weekend 20th/21st April
Changing Times – Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies – Jockey Sam Twiston-Davies
Changing Times was an unfortunate loser on Saturday with the race at his mercy when he made a howler at the last giving Sam no chance of keeping the partnership together. He has had a very busy running eight times but has kept his form admirably. He is tough out and surprised me here by showing a nice turn of foot to pick up the leading Rajdhani Express easily following a slight mistake two out. He met the final fence on a perfect stride but for some reason did not pick up and paid the price. He is inclined to make some silly mistakes but if they can be ironed out he can go right to the top next year in staying chases where his jumping will not be put under as much pressure.
Court Minstrel – Trainer Evan Williams – Jockey Adam Wedge
Court Minstrel won the limited handicap that is the Scottish Champion Hurdle very easy last weekend. He did carry only 10-6 taking his jockeys three pound claim into consideration but won this race like a top horse. He showed his liking for good ground with an eye catching turn of foot to seal the race heading for the last flight. He idled and pricked his ears on the run to the line but the race was won. His trainer mentioned that “there is a lot more to come” and the Galway Hurdle would suit. That valuable race is a big temptation run in July on summer ground.
Noble Mission – Trainer Henry Cecil – Jockey Tom Queally
Noble Mission looked all over the winner at Newbury on Saturday in the Group 3 over 1m4f. He led narrowly approaching the final furlong but was run out of it by the tough Mark Johnston Universal. Noble Mission was a little short of fitness according to Henry Cecil earlier last week and he took a blow near the end of this race. The bookies might underestimate him next time out when he will strip much sharper for this effort. Henry Cecil is a master trainer and said the following after the race “He needed the run and if he had been waited with a bit longer he could have got away with it. He could run in the Ormonde Stakes next which is slightly further but an easier course”. He is one to add to the horse tracker for sure.
Maarek – Trainer – David Nagle – Jockey – Seamie Heffernan
Maarek won his season debut easily surprising his trainer who considered him a little short of fitness coming into the listed contest. David Nagle said in his post race interview “.I was a bit surprised by that .To tell the truth I thought he’d badly need the run”. Maarek improved over 17lbs last year moving up the ladder from Handicap Company to win a Grade 2 at Ascot on Champions Day. He is only turned six and can keep improving .It is well known that he prefers ground on the easy side and once he gets his ground he is capable of winning a Grade 1 this year esp. if we have another wet summer.
All the Best,