The Punchestown festival got under way on Tuesday afternoon and it’s safe to say that Waterford experienced the best possible start to the five-day extravaganza when Dungarvan owner Michael Ryan’s Wedger Pardy won the DNG Nationwide Ladies Cup Chase run over the banks course in front of an opening day crowd of 18,168.
The winning seven-year-old, who won a maiden point-to-point race at Punchestown on St Patrick’s Day, was bred by Eamonn Walsh from Lismore. Trained by Ted Walsh, Wedger Pardy was the 9/2 favourite and never gave his supporters any real cause for concern as he led from four out under Ross O’Sullivan to beat Chance Your Arm by an unchallenged 14 lengths.
The main race on Tuesday was the Kerrygold Champion Chase over two miles and Paul Nicholls’ Twist Magic started the week in excellent style for the visiting British contingent by landing this Grade 1 contest in emphatic fashion under Ruby Walsh. The 6/4 favourite ultimately beat stable companion Natal by one and three quarter lengths.
On Wednesday, Paul Nicholls’ Neptune Collonges repeated his success of 12 months ago in the Grade 1 Punchestown Guinness Gold Cup. On this occasion, the grey Neptune Collonges justified the 9/10 favourite tag in the hands of Ruby Walsh. Snowy Morning however deserves particular credit for his second-placed effort in this race for Willie Mullins’ charge finished an excellent third to Comply Or Die in the Aintree Grand National less than three weeks previously.
End of British National Hunt Season
The jumps campaign draws to a close on Saturday and the final big race of the British national hunt season taking place at Sandown in the form of the bet365 Gold Cup Handicap Chase.
The Irish have had just one winner of this coveted extended three mile five furlong handicap in the past 10 races and that was Ted Walsh’s Jack High in 2005.
However, it’s safe to say that Tony Martin’s Royal County Star looks the part on Saturday afternoon. On his most recent start, the nine-year-old posted a particularly noteworthy effort by finishing second to Hear The Echo in the Irish Grand National on March 24. Ultimately beaten 12 lengths on that occasion, Royal County Star can go one better here by dismissing Hoo La Baloo.
The main supporting event at Sandown is the Grade 2 bet365.com Celebration Chase and it should prove profitable to support Twist Magic.
Emphatic winner of the Kerrygold Champion Chase at Punchestown on Tuesday, Twist Magic also collected the Tingle Creek Chase here in December and he looks likely to continue on his merry way at the expense of Lennon.
John Forbes could justify the lengthy trek southwards from trainer Brian Ellison’s North Yorkshire establishment by completing a hat-trick at the expense of Oslot in the bet365 Best Odds Guaranteed Handicap Hurdle.
Rob Roy meanwhile can roll back the years by returning to the winning groove for Sir Michael Stoute’s in the Group 2 bet365 Mile, while Medicine Path is also likely to play a major starring role in this £80,000 contest.
The Channel 4 cameras will additionally be screening two races live from Ripon.
Bryan Smart’s Soopacal, fresh from winning on the all-weather, should get the afternoon off to the perfect start for punters by beating Legal Eagle in the totescoop6 Handicap. Meanwhile, Oddsmaker appears leniently enough treated in the totesport BeXtra Handicap and Maurice Barnes’ charge therefore is recommended to possess too many aces for seasonal debutant Double Banded.
Final Day at Punchestown
The final day of the Punchestown festival takes place on Saturday and the most valuable event is the newly-inaugurated Ballymore 25th Anniversary Handicap Hurdle, which comes complete with a total prize-fund of some €220,000.
Barker catapulted trainer James Barrett to national prominence by winning the coveted Pierse Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown in January. Not raced since then, Barker is now rated 134 and he should have little difficulty in staying the two and a half miles of this particular race. Consequently, he’s taken to return to the coveted number one slot here from Cheltenham festival winner Silver Jaro.
Oscar Rebel looks the part in the Grade 3 Bewleys Hotels Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders Fund Mares’ Hurdle.
A former winning point-to-pointer, Oscar Rebel attained black-type by collecting a Grade 3 mares’ novice hurdle at Fairyhouse on Easter Sunday. Oscar Rebel ultimately won that race by nine lengths and Liam Burke’s six-year-old should continue on her merry way here at the expense of Emma Jane, a recent winner over fences in Limerick.
Won In The Dark is without doubt one of the best young hurdlers in the country and Sabrina Harty’s charge, a fine third in the Triumph Hurdle at last month’s Cheltenham festival, could spring a mild surprise by dismissing Franchoek in the Grade 1 Eventus Marquees Champion 4YO Hurdle.
Bothar Na made a pleasing return to action by finishing third in the John Smith’s Topham Chase, run over a circuit of the Grand National course at Aintree earlier this month, and the Mister Lord-sired gelding should provide the solution to the White-water Centre Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase.
Sunday Racing in Gowran
On Sunday, there are two meetings at Gowran Park and Navan.
In the Kilkenny venue, Mull On The Run could play a role of sorts in the Summer Sundays at Gowran Park Handicap.
The Michael McElhone-trained Mull On The Run was far from disgraced on his most recent start when finishing third to Sciatin in an extended 10 furlong handicap at Cork on Easter Monday.
It should be divulged Mull On The Run was conceding all of 15 lbs to Sciatin on that occasion. The likelihood is that the mile distance of this particular race will suit the four-year-old, who is likely to outpoint Jim Bolger’s recent Dundalk winner Belle Noverre.
Eoin Griffin’s Academy Blues will surely give a positive account of himself in the Senior Golf Membership available at Gowran Park Maiden.
Academy Blues made an encouraging start to his career by finishing fourth in a six-furlong maiden on the all-weather at Dundalk on April 11th and the American-bred can vindicate that promise by proving marginally superior to recent Limerick runner-up Fast Hanna.
Luzdeluna could make a victorious return to the fray for trainer Pat Flynn in the Kilkenny Handicap whilst last Sunday’s Cork bumper winner Themoonandsixpence should have most to fear from Glenquest in the Rockview (QR) INH Flat Race.
It’s to be hoped that Yeats will meet his engagement in the Vintage Crop Stakes, a one mile five furlong listed race at Navan.
Yeats is unquestionably one of the best flat stayers of recent times and indeed Aidan O’Brien’s charge has won the two most recent runnings in the Group 1 Ascot Gold Cup. Yeats should prove capable of out pointing Alan Swinbank’s Alfie Flits, himself a reasonable stayer in his own right.
Jim Bolger’s Toirneach should land the Coolmore Ad Valorem Fillies Race from Mad About You, while recent Tipperary runner-up Daring Man could cause a minor upset by beating Dedo in the Family Day at Navan Handicap.