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Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Punchestown Day 1: Go Bigg on the Gigg

One of the seriously serendipitous side-effects of this chest infection I’m currently suffering is the sleeplessness associated with consistent coughing.   Couple that with anticipation for the beginning of this year’s Punchestown Festival and you get the perfect recipe for early-morning blog writing. 

St G: Character on a Horse
With only next weekend’s Ultimate Celebration Meeting at Sandown remaining on this year’s national hunt agenda proper, it’s almost time to reflect on another exciting year in the sport of kings and queen.  Despite the overpowering patriotism felt at Palphabet HQ today though, on this day of our patron Saint George (himself an accomplished horseman by all accounts), it is vital to keep the emotion of Englishness at bay when looking at this afternoon’s big-race card in Ireland.

Boasting three opening day Grade 1 races, Tuesday 23rd April looks very much geared up to be dominated by home-trained horses, with the notable and hugely exhilarating exception of English raider Sprinter Sacre.  Nicky Henderson’s superstar travels overseas for the first time, where he is sure to continue answering questions on the track with an exuberant arrogance unparalleled by his peers at present, and a disdain that eclipses even the way in which Jeremy Paxman asks the questions on University Challenge.   

So let’s hope, at the gong, that we can get a few answers ourselves.  The first race of the day is the 3.40 three-mile chase:

Zest for Life at 5/1 isn’t a bet I would be hanging today’s gambling hat on.  The soft ground doesn’t appear to be particularly in the favour of the 2010 winner of this race, whose trainer and track specialist Enda Bolger (19% success rate here from 83 runs) admitted prefers quicker conditions.   At the price though, and with a 7lb claimant on board, Zest is preferred over favourite and stablemate Near Perfection, who is nearer 5/2 in the betting.

4.20’s Grade 1 two-mile novice hurdle sees a mouth-watering rematch of Cheltenham’s Supreme Novice Hurdle.  Winner Champagne Fever and third-place Jezki are back on home soil and looking to take advantage of the absence of My Tent or Yours, runner-up in March and subsequent winner in the lower class novice hurdle at Aintree earlier this month.  

Festival Fillip
Mullins and Walsh got my 2013 festival off to a cork-popping flyer with a 6/1 fillip but I’m going to desert the dream duo today and side with Davy Russell’s Gigginstown House Stud mount, Rule the World at 9/2.  A four-length defeat at the hands of The New One in the 2m 5f Neptune Novices’ Hurdle was form-franked in the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle, Rule the World only has a few pounds to find on the two market leaders here, and has beaten an off-colour Champagne Fever in Ireland before.  Ted Veale, a big priced Palphabet winner of the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham, is rated 10 pounds lower than Rule the World so I have to rule him out. 

It's worth pointing out at this stage, that are giving punters their money back if your horse finished 2nd to a Willie Mullins winner.  Could prove a useful insurance policy here and in the 6.40.

 4.55 Handicap Hurdle:  Looking down the weights at another horse owned by the GHS, Beef to the Heels is my meaty selection here.  Priced at 43/1 on Betfair, 25/1 with Bet365 and Paddy Power (who pay five places each-way in this race) and intriguingly only 20/1 with magic sign firm Ladbrokes, who are renowned for their Irish knowledge, I’ll be getting the knife and fork out on this slice of betting beef.  Trained by Gordon Elliott, this course and distance winner is ridden by Miss Jane Mangan, who is 2-3 on him and 6-9 when booked by Elliott.  In a competitive handicap like this, the jockey’s knowledge of her horse is nearly as important as her 5lb allowance.  Nearly.

Still got £12 of this bet unmatched

5.30 Champion Chase:  I see no reason not to follow up the exacta from the Cheltenham Queen Mother Champion Chase with the same bet here.  Sprinter Sacre win, Sizing Europe next.  Could be a similar procession, but Sprinter Sacre has not been treated to the same break as his nearest rival here, so a 20-length demolition job may not be repeated.  Sacre continues to deliver though so who knows – the gap between these two might be even bigger!

Swerving the bumper, where Mullins’s Moyle Park is strongly fancied, the 6.40 Champion Novice Chase is the final Grade 1 of the opening day and Ruby Walsh looks to have a huge chance to extend Back in Focus’s winning run to five races.  Pricewise has selected Dedigout, and with two of my earlier selections adorned in the iconic maroon and white star of the aforementioned Irish racing powerhouse, the Gigginstown House Stud (owned by shrinking violet and Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary), who am I to disagree?  If you read this before 8.30am today, wait until then, when you should be able to get a better price than the 5/1 or 11/2 available right now (some bookmakers agree to hold the price at which Tom Segal tips his horses for about 15 minutes from 8.30am and Dedigout was put up in today’s Racing Post at 13/2).

With a "powerful three-horse assault" on tomorrow’s Punchestown Gold Cup, this could be a big week for the Gigg – they are represented by Sir Des Champs, First Lieutenant and Quito de la Roque in Wednesday’s fascinating contest.


A final word for this fantastic festival - the timings of the races are excellent and more or less allow full enjoyment without the risk of being sacked for diving into a betting shop every half-hour.  Even if I wasn't off sick with this blasted chest infection, I'm still confident I would be able to tuck in with almost weekend-esque abandon.  Enjoy!


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