The jumps season in the UK came to a close at Sandown on Saturday. But the jumps season in Ireland will enjoy one last hurrah this week with the fabulous five-day Punchestown Festival.
Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and co. have their stars in tip-top order across the week for contests which include the Punchestown Gold Cup and Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle.
So we’ve put our hands to the pump, too, and previewed the biggest race during each day of the Festival.
This should boil down to Min and Un De Sceaux. The former was electric to win by 20l at Aintree last time out, while the latter is getting on but did win this race last year when ahead of the aforementioned Min.
However, this could be a step too far for the veteran. He was a fair way off the pace in the Ryanair at Cheltenham, and if Min turns up in a similar mood to Aintree, it’ll take some performance to stop the seven-year-old.
That said, there’s not a great deal of appeal in the fav at the prices. So Great Field could be a viable alternative each-way if he can sort his jumping out with Jody McGarvey in the saddle.
Kemboy v Al Boum Photo v Bellshill? What a cracker. The first of those bolted up at Aintree last time out, Al Boum Photo showed his potential to win the Gold Cup in March and Bellshill triumphed in this race 12 months ago.
So it really could go any one of three ways. However, our preference is for the outsider of the three. Bellshill never quite takes to Cheltenham and he should be fresher than the rest after being pulled up at the Festival.
Add in his win in the race last year and a dominant display to win the Irish Gold Cup in February and he makes plenty of appeal over the two market leaders.
You’ll have to wait for final decs for the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle. But it looks a fair bet Apple’s Jade will turn up here as she bids to end a disappointing season on a high note.
The mare didn’t fancy it at all at Cheltenham. She came up short again at Aintree, too, when third in a head-bobbing finish behind If The Cap Fits and Roksana. She does, though, save her best work for Ireland.
That should be of some consolation to punters thinking about backing her in this. Bapaume, Benie Des Dieux, Aux Ptits Soins and Footpad are all potential rivals, depending on declarations.
Punchestown Champion Hurdle (5:30, Friday)
Beware one W. Mullins in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle. The trainer has a pretty spectacular record across the Festival but has taken this particular race in seven of the last nine years.
Laurina, Melon and Sharjah all look to have game chances if the trio all run. Regardless, it looks a good idea to avoid the fav. Buveur D’Air hasn’t been the same horse in 2019 and is readily taken on after back-to-back defeats.
Mares Champion Hurdle (3:50, Saturday)
It’s difficult to take a proper look at this race almost a week in advance. But with a number of the ante-post favourites likely to be diverted elsewhere, there’s good reason to like Stormy Ireland.
Another for Mullins, the five-year-old has been the bridesmaid to Espoir D’Allen, Laurina and Roksana this term, all of whom have gone on to have good seasons, one way or another.
If any of the key market principals such as Apple’s Jade, Benie Des Dieux or Laurina do line-up here, then it would make sense to side with them over 2m 4f.
All Odds and Markets correct as of date of publication