Champagne Fever, Don Poli, Douvan, Hidden Cyclone, Sizing Europe and Sizing John headline a star-studded opening day card at the peerless Punchestown Festival, with a mighty week in store here in County Kildare.
Three Grade 1 contests set the tone for the best week of the year in the National Hunt calendar on this side of the pond, and with a typically strong British challenge heading across the water there’s plenty to look forward to.
Unless they significantly under-perform it’s hard to envisage the Willie Mullins-trained hotpots Douvan and Don Poli not winning the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle (4.20pm) and the Growise Champion Novice Chase respectively, though the bookies aren’t taking too many risks as at the prices available you’ll get around 4/6 or 8/11 the double!
Sandwiched in between those two is a better punting proposition, with the two mile Boylesports Champion Chase attracting a field of 10, at 5.30pm.
It’s some line-up as well, and though Vautour hasn’t quite made it, that has opened it right up in terms of the level of competition.
The old boy Sizing Europe, 13 years young but a dual former winner of this prize, will have his fans and rightly so, Baily Green was second in the Arkle in 2013, while Flemenstar is trying to recapture his thrilling form of 2012.
First time blinkers are the factor trainer Shark Hanlon hopes can spark a first Grade 1 win at the ninth attempt from his stable star Hidden Cyclone, who has hit the cross bar on four occasions at this level.
He’ll have to be sharp though, as even when he isn’t happy to unleash Vautour, it’s the power of the Mullins team that could come to the fore once again, with a powerful three-pronged attack arriving from Closutton…
Ruby Walsh is on the favourite in Champagne Fever, as he bids to improve on what might have been a tough enough race when fourth at Aintree 18 days ago, while Paul Townend gets the nod to partner mudlover Twinlight.
Strictly on jockey bookings you could argue that the Graham Wylie-owned Felix Yonger is the third string, as Danny Mullins (fresh from riding five winners from just seven mounts in America) is on board, but that would be to ignore an improver who has won his last three.
This horse arrives here off the back of wins at Cork, Leopardstown and Navan, ran very well over fences at this meeting 12 months ago, and also went off favourite for a race at the Cheltenham Festival prior to that.
He has won over this course and distance, handles seemingly any ground, and will love the fast pace set by Hidden Cyclone.
At the time of writing Paddy Power are laying him at 8/1 each way, which looks a nice price in a wide open heat.
Elsewhere on the card, if the graded races are more for the purists than the punters then take a look at the 25 runner Killashee Handicap Hurdle, a two mile bun fight due off at 4.55pm.
Numerous possibilities include last year’s winner Cool Macavity for Nicky Henderson, each way gamble Henry Higgins, plus recent Fairyhouse winner Some Article.
With some bookies paying five places on the race it might not be the worse thing to try and find one at a nice price, and on a day where he could clean up there’s plenty to recommend the Willie Mullins-trained Rupert Lamb.
A whopping 22 pounds better off over hurdles than fences, he has gone well here over timber previously, and had a nice spin at Fairyhouse three weeks ago to blow away the cobwebs after a long break.
He has the assistance of Ruby Walsh in the saddle, and a feather weight to carry.
With both bet365 and Skybet offering 16/1 and the extra place, all we have to do in effect is smuggle Rupert Lamb into the first five for a 3/1 winner.
Tuesday’s best bets at the Punchestown Festival:
4.55 – Killashee Handicap Hurdle – 22 Rupert Lamb (each way) @ 16/1 (bet365 or Skybet – both 5 places)
5.30 – Boylesports Champion Chase – 3 Felix Yonger (each way) @ 8/1 (Paddy Power