Blink and you’ll miss it – a non-stop diet thrills, spills, drama and intrigue are what make up the five days of what they call peerless Punchestown, where we’ve reached the third day of what up until now has been another great renewal of jump racing’s spring carnival.
Day two belonged to Grade 1 staying novice hurdle winner Beat That, giving Nicky Henderson and his team a second winner after Cool Macavity on Tuesday, and in the process earning quotes of 14/1 (from 25/1) for next year’s World Hurdle.
He had to share top billing with Gold Cup winner Boston Bob, who was part of a Grade 1 double for a certain W P Mullins on the day (together with Shaneshill in the Champion Bumper).
Boston Bob authoritatively stepped up in trip to follow up his Aintree win in the Melling Chase, and is now no bigger than 16/1 for the 2015 Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Mullins is once again responsible for the headline act on day three – the morning ushered in with a wet start – the forecast rain arriving with a vengeance, with the incredible race mare Quevega, who holds lifetime form figures at Punchestown of 1,9,1,3,1,1,1,1.
She has won today’s feature – the Grade 1 three mile Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle (live on RTE1 at 5.30pm) – four years on the bounce, and is a warm order to make it five and what’s being hinted could be the last time we see her on the racecourse.
In addition, she is of course a true history maker, after becoming the first horse to win six years on the spin at the Cheltenham Festival, making the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle her own since 2009.
She was made to dig deeper than ever before to land the spoils in Gloucestershire this year, but equally always seems to improve on that first run of the season and perform with added zest going right-handed a few weeks later at Punchestown.
Is the bet at as short as 5/6 with a number of bookmakers this morning?
No one will be cheering louder than me if/when she wins, but her price means we’re privy to some cracking value each way about a couple of star rivals trying to spoil the party or make the frame, and for that reason I’m going to have a few quid each with 6/1 with Ladbrokes about the Philip Hobbs-trained Fingal Bay.
The race sponsors are offering a quarter of the odds to each way players, but at the price there is a significant threat posed by Fingal Bay that he might chin Quevega and land the win element of the bet as well.
He is an almost unblemished six from seven over hurdles, and returned from 14 months on the sidelines to win at Exeter in a Pertemps Qualifier in February, which proved to be a mere warm up for an extraordinary weight carrying performance when defying top weight in the Pertemps itself at the Cheltenham Festival.
That Exeter win was especially significant as it displays his ability to handle a right-handed undulating track, plus a drop of rain has arrived to boost his chances.
It might be clutching at straws to try and suggest Quevega could be beaten, but at 6/1 each way we’re in good shape financially if Fingal Bay can make the frame, and she does face an especially searching examination here this afternoon, with both ultra tough At Fishers Cross and our selection prepared to expose any chink in her armour.
Elsewhere on the card, a trio of big field handicaps and the famous La Touche Cross Country race make up a puzzling day for punters, but the Dessie Hughes-trained Art Of Logistics could well do us a favour in the first of those handicaps at 4.15pm.
A field of 20 are set to go to post for the three.ie Handicap Chase over two miles, and Hughes has snapped up the services of Tom Scudamore to ride a horse who was fourth in his debut bumper here in 2012, and was also fourth here in 2013 in the Grade 1 Herald Champion Novice Hurdle (won by future Champion Hurdle winner Jezki).
His chasing career began with a win at Gowran Park, and continued with another step forward when taking a Grade 3 here at Punchestown in October.
Very highly tried since then, he was fifth in the Grade 1 Drinmore at Fairyhouse, and then fourth in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas time.
Art Of Logistics didn’t fire when sent off 13/2 joint favourite for a novice handicap at the Cheltenham Festival, but plenty of horses have bounced back from a disappointment there, and on a course he acts on this looks far more suitable from a mark of 136.
Thursday’s best bets at Punchestown:
5.30 – Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle – 3 Fingal Bay (each way) @ 6/1 (Ladbrokes)