Day one of the Punchestown Festival may not match the other spring festivals in terms of quantity, with the three grade one contests consisting of eight or less runners, but it’s nevertheless top class action and is required viewing for National Hunt fans.
2:40 – Herald Champion Novice Hurdle – 2m – Grade 1
The first of the grade one races is the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at 2:40 and on the face of things it doesn’t look a betting race. Klassical Dream was brilliant in the Supreme and the clock backs up this view. It would be no great surprise if there was more improvement in him and it’s possible that he could step up in trip considering the fact that the Ballymore was an option. However, he faces stiff opposition today. Felix Desjy was 5th in the Supreme after receiving considerable market support before the off. He travelled well but couldn’t find much towards the end of the race. I’ve wondered for a while whether small fields could be key to this horse and he duly obliged in a field of 7 at Aintree next time out, beating Aramon by a length and a half (although he idled on the run in and could well have won by a lot more).
Aramon is a horse that I feel has been unlucky this year, though. He exceeded expectations on the good ground that prevailed throughout the season but was unsuited by the softer conditions at Cheltenham and Aintree. I still think that he could be a very good horse on better ground, although the concern will have to be whether he begins to feel the effects of a long season.
The interesting thing about the race is that each and every one of them could be considered in with a chance. Champagne Platinum has been hugely impressive on both starts to date although this is a big step up in class. Mister Blue Sky won a grade 2 at Fairyhouse a few weeks ago and deserves his place here. Quick Grabim was ruled out of Cheltenham due to injury but his win in the Royal Bond in December (beating Aramon with considerable ease) suggests that he could be in the mix here if back to his best. He was a really exciting horse early in the season and may benefit from coming here a fresher horse than the others. This will be a great race to watch.
5:30 – Boylesports Champion Chase – Grade 1 – 2m
Min is the odds on favourite here after a terrific display at Aintree. Next in the betting is Un De Sceaux, who would appreciate some rain, followed by Great Field. The interesting point here is probably that these three are all likely to go forward. These tactics worked well for Min at Aintree and it would be a surprise if they were deserted today, while Un De Sceaux has always gone from the front (the exception was the Ryanair last time out when more patient tactics didn’t work out) and Great Field is another confirmed front-runner (the question in his case will be how long his jumping can hold up).
With these three getting into a battle up the front, the race could play to the strengths of something else. Hells Kitchen may not go forward but does tend to race very keenly and so he wouldn’t be the prime candidate for picking up the pieces. Castlegrace Paddy and Ordinary World are the two at the bottom of the betting and it’s this pair that we know will be given patient rides, hunting around and attempting to come through in the finish when others have expended too much energy early on. Castlegrace Paddy does have a decent record at right-handed tracks (4 wins from 8 compared to 0 from 4 going left-handed) but all of his wins have come on softer ground and after a longer break.
This leaves us with the somewhat unusual option of Ordinary World. He was 7th of 9 in this race last year, 26 lengths behind the winner. However, that was on tougher ground than he will encounter this year and his form in chases around this trip in going conditions more similar to today’s is 12323232. On all known form he shouldn’t be good enough to win today. However, with six runners we have the prospect of a without the favourite market in which we can still bet each-way.
Ordinary World 0.25pt e/w 100/1 (1/4 odds, 2 places, Skybet, BetVictor, Boylesports)
Ordinary World W/O Min 0.25pt e/w 50/1 (1/4 odds, 2 places, Boylesports)
6:40 – Dooley Insurance Group Champion Novice Chase – Grade 1 – 3m½f
Delta Work only managed to finish 3rd in what was a high class RSA Chase but there are plenty of reasons to think that he could be better than that already impressive standard. Firstly, he’s only 6 years old, a year younger than any other horse than ran in the RSA that day other than Mister Malarky. Secondly, Gordon Elliott’s form at that point hadn’t been brilliant – his form for the festival overall was 7%, whereas he usually operates at a strike rate of around 15% and his strike rates for the 2017 and 2018 festivals were 21% and 25% respectively. Thirdly, the ground still had some cut in it on the Wednesday at Cheltenham and Delta Work has shown his best form this season on a sounder surface (212111 on yielding or better, 3324313 on soft or worse).
Fourthly, the key to his form looks to be a recent run (4 wins and 2 places from 6 starts when back out within 30 days of his last start), but he had had a 74-day break going into the RSA (his break since that race has been 48 days). Finally, a look at the race itself suggests that he suffered from a lack of luck in running. One excellent jump probably brought him to the front earlier than would have been ideal. He committed at that stage and then was short of space jumping the last and was forced to switch out to the right.
Overall, I’m just convinced that Delta Work is a very good horse. To me, 7/4 seems a very reasonable price due to the fact that A Plus Tard is so short in the betting. The latter certainly looked like a graded horse when winning the Close Brothers, but it has to be remembered that the Close Brothers is rarely a fantastic race and the subsequent form this year hasn’t done anything to suggest otherwise. He’s competing for favouritism with Delta Work at the moment and my preference has to be for the former.
Getabird is clearly a talented horse on his day and has run well at Punchestown in the past but again, 7/2 is a bit short for me. Discorama is also a nice type, but the concern would be that the gruelling four miler at the festival may have taken a lot out of him. Clondaw Cian and Atlanta Ablaze, two other horses which were involved towards the finish in that race, didn’t look like themselves next time out and Discorama tends to run well fresh anyway, with his form when back out within 50 days of his previous start reading 2372552, compared to 11F after a longer break. He has also shown his best form in bigger fields.
Winter Escape would need to improve significantly from his last start on Easter Sunday to be in contention, Drovers Lane has 21 lengths to find with Delta Work and Chris’s Dream and Articulum would also need to find significant improvement.
Delta Work 2pt win 7/4 (general)