High profile defeats for a string of heavily backed horses in the shape of Ned Buntline (11/4f), Duke Of Lucca (9/4f), Quevega (9/10f) and Champagne Fever (5/4f) left Punchestown bookmakers purring after a tumultuous day three at Punchestown, a day which ended with confirmation that ‘Queen’ Quevega has seen the racecourse for the last time, departing with a gallant defeat at the hands of Jetson in the World Series Hurdle.
The great thing about Punchestown though is the racing just seems to get better and better as the week goes on, and it’s straight back into the fray for a day four featuring stars such as Hurricane Fly, Jezki and Vautour to name just three!
Hurricane Fly leads Champion Hurdle winner Jezki 2-1 in meetings this season, and boasts Punchestown form figures of 1,1,3,1,1,1,1,1,1.
He is also the most successful hurdler of all time, with a staggering 19 Grade 1 wins to his name, but today has the feeling of a decider as he once again clashes with Jezki in the three runner Racing Post Champion Hurdle at 5.30pm, live on RTE1.
It’s the smallest field in the history of the event, but it’ll be fascinating tactically as the 10-year-old ‘Fly’ takes on the new kid on the block, six-year-old Jezki (half-brother to yesterday’s World Series Hurdle winner Jetson).
Speaking of new kids on the block, the anomaly is that even though that pair are winners of three of the last four Champion Hurdles, in the race immediately after them we get another glimpse of the awesome talent who is shorter than either of them in the antepost markets for next year’s Cheltenham day one highlight – Vautour.
Simply awesome at Cheltenham, Vautour is as short as 5’s for next year’s Champion Hurdle, while reigning the champ is 7/1 and Hurricane considered past it and 20/1.
Those looks to be races to admire rather than get involved, and for anyone looking for a bet on the card we’ll try and strike early on the card in the Aon Novice Handicap Chase at 4.20pm, also live on RTE1.
In an open looking race I was highly encouraged to see the money that materialised overnight for top weight Road To Riches.
Running in his first handicap off a mark of 145, trainer Noel Meade has opted to employ the services of ace conditional jock Ger Fox, who comes with a seven pound claim that might well prove vital.
Fox has been in great form in the last eight days, riding winners at Tipperary and Limerick, before delivering in style live on the box yesterday when driving home 25/1 shot Jacks Island to spring a surprise in the La Touche.
It’s notoriously difficult for jockeys to find rides in an ultra competitive Irish racing scene, so consider this: in the last fortnight Ger Fox has ridden for 18, yes 18, different trainers!
Here he teams up with a bang in form horse who is a course winner over hurdles, and who returned to winning ways when scoring in novice company at Fairyhouse last week.
That form has already been impressively franked here at Punchestown, with Mallowney (who he saw off by nearly four lengths at level weights) winning off a mark of 139 in a very tricky handicap here yesterday.
That’s more than enough encouragement to persuade me to divert a euro or two in his direction this afternoon – Road To Riches is 8/1 with any of bet365, Betfred or Skybet.
Elsewhere, my good friend James Griffin takes hat-trick seeking Sudski Star to Bangor-On-Dee for their extended 2m 1f Novices’ Handicap Chase at 6.50pm, and he rates a strong fancy to get the job done.
Any further rain that arrives will only boost his chances, and this looks an excellent opportunity for the follow up after he motored in at Kelso and Hexham.
Finally, for anyone interested in where I do my Christmas shopping, here’s a piece we filmed for RTE this week which was aired on the show on Wednesday – go to 32 mins and 50 seconds into the programme…
http://www.rte.ie/player/ie/show/10278457/ (only viewable to readers in Ireland)
Friday’s best bets: