The long awaited Punchestown party swings into action on Tuesday afternoon, with a glittering card boasting no less than three individual Grade 1 contests the perfect way to usher in five great days of National Hunt action, plus a total of five of seven races on the card live for Irish viewers on RTE1.
Hats off to the open minded Punchestown Executive for the brave decision to plough a lone furrow and race at punter friendly times…. it was considered a gamble when they opted to juggle the kick-off times a few seasons back, but having the first race at 3.40pm means anyone half-inching a couple of hours away from the ball and chain (or the office) can take in some truly top level sport, and for that they should be applauded.
Television audiences have benefitted too, and that in turn has had a beneficial knock-on effect, with the track reporting a huge upturn in ticket and hospitality pre-sales, as the feel good factor slowly but surely seeps back into the UK and Irish economies.
In the rather more immediate future, the economy I’m most concerned about is the one that begins and end in my back pocket, and i’m hoping the horse to get the week off to a flying start lines up in the Grade 1 two mile boylesports.com Champion Chase at 5.30pm.
A field of 10 is swelled by three UK-trained runners, with David Pipe’s Cheltenham Festival handicap winner Ballynagour having another well earned bite of the Grade 1 cherry, after a quality third behind Boston Bob in the Melling Chase at Aintree.
Rather like the race’s chief Irish-trained hope Hidden Cyclone, he faces a significant drop in trip, and might struggle to live with the proven two mile speed of his English-trained counterparts Somersby and Module.
That pair are tightly matched on a couple of runs this season, firstly at Exeter in November in the Haldon Gold Cup, in which Somersby successfully conceded three pounds to see off Module by a head, and then in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, where at level weights Somersby again came out on top with the pair finishing second and third in the race, this time by a neck at level weights.
So the score this season is 2-0 to Somersby in that private battle, and you can be certain Somersby’s trainer Mick Channon will have been mighty relieved to see Sire De Grugy (who has easily beaten Somersby twice this campaign) off on his summer hols after signing off with a fourth Grade 1 win of the campaign at Sandown Park at the weekend, rather than boarding a ferry to Ireland!
So no Sprinter Sacre, no Sire De Grugy, but a really solid substitute in the shape of Somersby!
He has his favoured decent ground, has had a nice break since Cheltenham, and given how well Exeter’s undulating right-handed circuit suited him in November, it could turn out to be something akin to a masterstroke sending him to Punchestown, which you’ve guessed it…..is right handed and undulating.
Even without Sire De Grugy or Sprinter it’s very much the red hot race you’d expect at this level, with former winner and last year’s runner up Sizing Europe back for more at the age of 12, another Cheltenham handicap scorer in Tony Martin’s Savello trying to bridge the quality gap, plus the Willie Mullins’ pair of Twinlight and Turban.
That said, the coast is clear and all looks set fair for a massive run from Somersby, who is available at 5/1 with the race sponsors.
Tuesday’s best bet at Punchestown:
5.30 – boylesports.com Champion Chase – 8 Somersby (win) @ 9/2 (Bet365)