A quite wonderful days racing with another three Grade 1 contests’ to get our teeth into from Punchestown beginning with the 3m Novice Hurdle which sees the Irish Cheltenham Festival winners Very Wood (Albert Bartlett) and Don Poli (Martin Pipe) go head-to-head but I was very taken with the win of Beat That (4.55) for Nicky Henderson at Aintree and he can take the valuable prize back to Britain.
The selection has improved with each of his three starts so far this season and, although chasing will be his game next term, he can just edge out Don Poli who is ridden by Ruby Walsh for Gigginstown Stud for the first time this afternoon.
The Punchestown Gold Cup is an excellent renewal even if Gold Cup winner Lord Windermere doesn’t take his chance and owner Graham Wylie has the first two in the betting Aintree winner Boston Bob (5.30) and Gold Cup runner up On His Own and it is the former who gets the vote. Ruby Walsh has chosen the selection over his stablemate and I think the danger could be former Gold Cup winner Long Run who fell at the ninth in the National last time.
A return to these more conventional fences should suit but he has now failed to complete in two of his last three starts although it should be noted that he finished runner up in this race last year beaten three-quarters-of-a-length by Sir Des Champs although on that occasion he jumped out to his left. He cannot afford to repeat that trait today and preference goes to Boston Bob (3/1 at BetVictor) who has hinted that a return to this extended 3 miles is what he needs, despite that Aintree success.
The first two in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham Silver Concorde (7/4) and Shaneshill (6.05) (4/1) re-oppose in the Champion Bumper and the latter can reverse the form for Willie Mullins and Jamie Codd who takes over from Ruby Walsh who is ineligible to ride. The selection has a length-and-a-half to find with Silver Concorde who has got his act together of late having been a beaten odds-on favourite on his first two starts. Black Hercules, fourth at Cheltenham, is likely to ensure there is plenty of pace and the horse who finished fourth at Cheltenham last year (The Liquidator) won this corresponding race. It promises to be a cracker but Shaneshill just for me.
The following handicap chase looks fascinating with leading owner JP McManus having four of the fifteen runners. My two against the field are Wise Old Owl (returning from a 637-day break and perhaps being prepared for Galway?) and Shot From The Hip (6.40) with marginal preference for the latter with the decent ground very much in his favour. The selection has never scaled the heights many felt he would achieve (won the Champion Novice Hurdle at this meeting three years ago) but he remains a useful tool when the mud isn’t flying.
The booking of AP McCoy for Competitive Edge would suggest he is the owner’s number one choice but he has only won on soft or heavy ground although, as a son of Presenting, he is certainly bred to go on good ground. Further rain would, obviously, be a plus.
At Cheltenham this evening Harbour Court (6.15) won on this corresponding card last season and is taken to return to winning ways despite being slightly disappointing in the Foxhunters’ here last month. There should be no excuses this evening although he is fitted with a tongue-tie for the first time.
At Ascot last year’s Sagaro Stakes winner Estimate went on to land the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot and Harris Tweed looks to have a favourites chance but I hope the globetrotting Simenon (3.45) fourth in last year’s Melbourne Cup bounces back for Willie Mullins for whom it could be a very special day.