We had a near 50/1 Grade One treble on Day Two of the Punchestown Festival and today’s feature sees Champion Hurdler Jezki take on Cheltenham fourth Hurricane Fly in a three-runner affair that is sure to be tactical as there is no confirmed pacemaker in the field. Some pundits have suggested that Steps to Freedom is in the field to ensure a decent gallop but the former Aintree Bumper winner has never led in his career to date and on good ground is a very useful tool in his own right.
Jezki (5.30) gets the nod as he was an impressive winner of the Novice Hurdle on this card last year although he got the strong pace he needs on that occasion. He is four years younger than Hurricane Fly who leads 2-1 in their head-to-head this season and it will be fascinating to see who leads and at what gallop they set. It makes little appeal as a betting medium but should be a fascinating race. BetVictor make Hurricane Fly the 10/11 favourite with Jezki Evens and Steps To Freedom 40/1.
Faugheen laid the gauntlet down to stablemate Vautour (6.05) with a brilliant performance on Tuesday over the minimum trip and the latter gets his chance stepped up to 2m 4f for the first time. The form of his 6L success in the Supreme Novices’ at Cheltenham has been franked by the runner up Josses Hill who scored by the same margin at Aintree last time. My thoughts are that Vautour will go novice chasing next term, with the Arkle his ultimate target, but he must first get past today’s four rivals with Lieutenant Colonel suggested as forecast material.
Sixth in the Neptune at Cheltenham Dessie Hughes’s five-y-old improved again when scoring at Fairyhouse last time and he is certainly one to keep on the right side of over fences next term.
The Novice Handicap Chase is an absolute belter; Ballinvarig is a fascinating contender for Britain returning from a two-month break as connections appear to have decided that he needs a right-handed track to be seen at his best. He can go close as can Operating for Jessica Harrington, but Sizing Gold (4.20) is surely better than he showed at Cheltenham last time when he got warm in the preliminaries and was beaten more than 20 lengths. That was in Grade 1 company, however, and he can reward each way support back in handicap company.
Aintree Foxhunters’ winner Warne barely stays 3m but his sound economical jumping was a revelation last time and granted no deterioration in underfoot conditions he must go close in the finale but likely favourite On The Fringe (7.45) winner of this race in 2010 and 2012 for Enda Bolger can land the hat-trick having finished third at the Cheltenham Festival last time.
At Lingfield Atalanta Bay (3.10) is a filly who can improve this season and she was an impressive winner returning from a break at Kempton back in November. It is possible that first time out might be the time to catch her for classic winning trainer Marcus Tregoning who certainly needs a good summer.
Green Monkey (4.45) was taken out of a race at the weekend for James Fanshawe and finished last on his only previous start on the all-weather, but he might just be a sprinter on the up and he is taken to make a winning reappearance in a hot race over the flying five furlongs. His draw in eight (of nine) is less than ideal but there is plenty of pace in the race and he gets the vote.