The opening day of Punchestown’s iconic five-day jumps Festival is the racing highlight with three Grade 1’s including the Champion Novice Hurdle with Supreme Novice winner Labaik (4.20) looking to follow up for Gordon Elliot.
The grey does have his kinks and has refused to race four times in his last eight starts, however, so the recommendation must be to take the 9/4 with BetVictor safe in the knowledge that you will get your money back in full as cash if he loses all chance at the start.
Willie Mullins’ Melon heads the market at 5/4 but he finished over two lengths behind the selection at Cheltenham and there doesn’t appear to be a reason for the favourite to reverse placings with the winner although Melon has only had two starts over timber. If backing Labaik do take advantage of BetVictor’s #RunForYourMoney concession.
Miles To Memphis (4.55) used to be with Alan King and was a horse who had a decent strike rate when trained in Britain. The gelding won first time out for his new yard at Navan back in February before improving again when runner up in a valuable handicap at Cork from a 3lbs lower mark. A lightly-raced eight-year-old there could be more to come and he gets an each way recommendation at 8/1 with BetVictor.
Ryanair Chase winner Un De Sceaux (5/6 with BetVictor) is unbeaten in three starts this season and was hugely impressive at Cheltenham last time but he didn’t beat Sub Lieutenant by as far as Fox Norton (5.30) did at Aintree earlier in the month.
The selection drops back to the minimum trip having finished runner up in the Champion Chase previously and at 7/2 with BetVictor I would be surprised if he were out of the first three with the favourite sure to make it an end-to-end gallop.
The final Grade 1 is the Novice Chase over 3m and the form of Disko’s (6.40) length third to Our Duke over today’s trip at Leopardstown over Christmas looks very good form in light of the winner’s Irish National success. The selection subsequently reversed the form back down in trip and ran another terrific race when third to the brilliant but enigmatic Yorkhill in the JLT at Cheltenham.
At Ludlow I wouldn’t want significant rain for By The Boardwalk (2.35) in the valuable 3m Handicap Chase but, if the rain stays away, he must have every chance of reversing this month’s C&D form with According To Harry on 4lbs better terms. That was the selection’s first start for 3 months and this race is likely to have been the target for some time.
Rene’s Girl (3.05) didn’t look to be crying out for 3m when finishing second at Stratford coming back from a three-month break last month but she won well on her sole hurdles start here (soft) from a 4lbs lower mark and the Skelton yard are in a rich vein of form.
At Hexham Storm Forecast (1.50) can go one better than when runner up over C&D last month on his belated seasonal reappearance. The selection is fitted with a hood for the first-time by trainer Malcolm Jefferson and this bumper winner can make it third time over hurdles.
I hope it’s a good day for the Jefferson stable as Schiaparannie (5.05) is taken to land the bumper having joined the yard since finishing third at Wetherby back in November for Mark Walford. The selection is the second representative from the yard who is fitted with a first-time hood and let’s hope it allows the mare to settle.
Wapping (2.45) has been gelded since he last saw the track when finishing runner-up at Lingfield (turf) back in August. The David Lanigan yard have not had many runners so far this term although one of the string did finish runner up at Wolverhampton last week.
Phosphorescence (3.50) showed her can go well fresh when winning the Legends race at Doncaster back in September and first-time-out looks the best time to catch this seven-year-old who has only had seven career starts to date.