The Punchestown Festival is upon us, and there’s absolutely no doubt that Ireland’s equivalent of the Cheltenham Festival is going to be a brilliant five days of high-class National Hunt action.
There are a dozen Grade 1 races to look forward to, and only Cheltenham can boast more (14). Three of those contests are on the opening day and, whilst two of those have odds-on favourites, the Boylesports Champion Chase is as competitive as you like.
Douvan (4.20) and Don Poli (6.40) are the two aforementioned odds-on shots but, as both remain unbeaten in their respective divisions, it is hard to see either getting turned over here. Both are also trying to complete Cheltenham Festival and Punchestown Festival doubles for ace trainer Willie Mullins. Douvan is priced-up at 1/4 and Don Poli at 4/9 and, though they’re not my usual kind of price, I couldn’t put anyone off having a fun double at 4/5.
The most competitive race of the day is the Boylesports Champion Chase at 5.30 in which Champagne Fever has been installed as favourite, again for Willie Mullins. However, the 2014 Arkle runner-up is so inconsistent that Mullins has two other runners in the race in the shape of Twinlight and Felix Yonger. Both have claims though Twinlight may prefer much softer ground and, on jockey bookings, Felix Yonger is only third best – though has the measure of Mallowney on one piece of form. Hidden Cyclone is another who can’t be discounted, but was getting weight when impressive over course and distance two starts ago.
Meanwhile, Sizing Europe has to put two poor runs behind him if he is to repeat last year’s victory in the race at the age of 13 – but did give Rags To Riches 4lb and a beating over 20 furlongs only six-months ago. Another horse looking to capture former glories is Flemenstar, however he looked a superstar in winning 5 of his 6 chase starts over 2-miles, before connections stepped him up in trip. He made his comeback over 20 furlongs, leading for a long way before fading – but could improve greatly for his comeback. It’s a tough race to call.