Day one of Punchestown could set the tone for the week as Willie Mullins looks set to steamroll through another festival.
The champion trainer had an ominously good Easter Festival at Fairyhouse, sending out a 1-2-3 in the Irish Grand National as well as three other 1-2s in significant races, including the Ryanair Gold Cup. Mullins has managed his fleet brilliantly this season and tellingly, he actually comes into Punchestown this year with significantly more prize money than last year. And worryingly for Gordon Elliott and every other Irish trainer, Mullins feels many of his horses are heading into Punchestown fresher than years before.
It’ll be huge surprise if he doesn’t win the first day feature, the BoyleSports Champion Chase, in which he trains the three market leaders in a field of six. Min is deservedly odds-on after a sensational performance at Aintree where he was allowed to stride on and nothing could go with him. However he did flop in this race last year and in stablemate Un De Sceaux, who won this last year, he has a worthy opponent, who is coming off a lighter campaign.
Mullins will also fancy his chances in taking the first Grade 1 of the week, the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle (4:20) where he has the odds-on favourite Klassical Dream. He was brilliant at Cheltenham, winning the Supreme with authority, but I wonder is he a little vulnerable here on a quicker surface. The situation with him prior to Cheltenham was that he would switch to the Ballymore if the ground came up quick and speaking to Mullins for the Talking Trainer column in our paper last week, it was a similar train of thought. The ground at the moment is yielding but it might just dry out a little more between now and the time of the race and it might be a source of concern for favourite backers.
Quick Grabim is interesting, considering he hasn’t been seen since winning the Royal Bond, but perhaps overlooked in the betting is Aramon, who has danced every dance this season but has yet to show a sign of slowing down. He travelled as well as anything down the hill in the Supreme before his stamina wore out and on his latest run he just failed to catch Felix Desjy, again on unsuitable soft ground at Aintree.
When he has raced on nice ground, he has been good - he won his Grade 1 by 10 lengths at Leopardstown over Christmas and came within a head of beating Klassical Dream at the Dublin Racing Festival. Fair enough, his stablemate has improved since, but that is with the aid of soft ground, and at 10/1, it’s worth chancing the Supreme Racing Club-owned gelding can put it up to him again.
Mullins has a much weaker hand in the other Grade 1 of the day but he could still end up winning the Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase (6:40). Delta Work is favourite here but he looks worth taking on as I’m not entirely convinced the RSA Chase form is as good as everyone is making it out to be. There was little substance to the profiles of both Topofthegame and Santini going into that race and the former was well beaten at Aintree since. A Plus Tard was brilliant in winning the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase but we’ll need to see a little more evidence if his newly allotted mark of 160 can be taken at face value.
I’m not surprised at all there has been loads of money for Getabird and he gets my vote. He has only been seen twice this season but that has been down to his need to go right-handed more than anything else and he comes here specifically trained for this festival. His beginners chase win at this course has worked out really well and he probably should have won a Grade 1 at Limerick at Christmas, but for a last fence blunder. He’s really interesting coming up in trip now and although not a certain stayer, Mullins must feel strongly that he will because the option to go over two miles later in the week is there and he could have gone for the Ryanair Gold Cup last week.
There is only one handicap on the first day but it has a market worth taking on given three juveniles reside in the first six of the betting. The two prices I liked were 9/1 about Raya Time and 10/1 about Cosmo’s Moon.
Raya Time has been a little frustrating considering he is yet to win in five maiden hurdles but his form, particularly for his previous two runs, is strong. He was only just beaten by subsequent Grade 3 third Milan Native at Navan and went close to giving the highly-touted Annamix 8lbs before giving way at Clonmel. He could easily be better than a mark of 127 and he could easily improve.
Cosmo’s Moon is a second season novice hurdler who has improved since joining the Noel Meade stable. His form to be second to Cash Back, second in a Grade 2 at Fairyhouse on his next run, reads really well and he got the better of Debuchet with a bit to spare at Limerick last time. He’s improving and could be nicely treated off 122. He looks worth playing as well.
The remainder of the card, the two bumpers and the banks race, are difficult to get a read on with regards to a bet so best keep the powder dry. It’s going to be a long week!
Aramon, 11/1, general, 4:20
Raya Time, 9/1, Paddy Power, 4:55
Cosmo’s Moon 10/1, general, 4:55
Getabird, 4/1, general, 6:40
READ PUNCHESTOWN RACE REPORTS EVERY EVENING ON THEIRISHFIELD.IE