The Punchestown Festival gets underway with a cracking card this evening and the highlight on day one is the Grade 1 Boylesports.com Champion Chase, in which the first four from the Queen Mother re-oppose and, though he was beaten here last year after winning the Arkle at Cheltenham, it is worth sticking with Sizing Europe (5:30).
He has ground to make up on Golden Silver and Big Zeb from their running here in January, but he had 5 lengths to spare over the latter when a brilliant winner of the Champion Chase in March.
The son of Pistolet Bleu relishes a decent surface and if he jumps as he did last time he will take some pegging back. Timmy Murphy won the Greatwood Hurdle on him back in 2007 and he won a novice hurdle at this fixture in the same year when, ironically, he beat Big Zeb.
Later on the card the Grade 1 Growise Novice Chase is another very competitive contest, in which Aintree winner Quito De La Roque heads the market. He probably has more on his plate here, while Quel Esprit certainly has the natural ability to win at this level but arrives here on the back of two heavy falls.
So, the one I want to be with at the prices, is the fresh Thegreatjohnbrowne (6:40) who carries the silks of JP McManus for the first time tonight.
Noel Meade’s seven-year-old won his first two starts over fences at this venue, before finishing fourth in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas. He was 3¼ lengths off RSA winner Bostons Angel that day, but he had already beaten him by 5 lengths on his fencing debut over 2m4f and, crucially, on good ground.
If he had jumped better last time he may well have troubled the winner once again and, given that he has missed the big spring Festivals in England and has form on a decent surface, he looks a solid each-way alternative at 11/2 with Hills (or 5/1 with Bet365 who are paying ¼ odds).
5:30 Punchestown Sizing Europe (9/4)
6:40 Punchestown Thegreatjohnbrowne each-way (11/2)