There are plenty of jump racing’s biggest stars on show at the 2014 Punchestown Festival, which gets underway on Tuesday.
The opening Grade 1 contest is the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle which sees Cheltenham Festival hero Faugheen intriguingly dropped down in trip to 2 miles in what may be a test of his potential Champion Hurdle credentials for next season. Certainly his victory in the Neptune Investment Management Novice Hurdle was emphatic and he bids here to extend his unbeaten record to 7.
Quickpick Vic won a Leopardstown maiden hurdle in taking fashion but has been well found out in 3 subsequent starts and looks like he will struggle to match Faugheen.
Real Steel has been a model of consistency this season and has placed on all visits to the racecourse, recording two victories including a Grade 2 contest at Naas where he beat Vicky De L’Oasis. However he was behind Faugheen’s stable mate Valseur Lido at Fairyhouse, suggesting he needs to improve.
Sgt Reckless is an interesting English challenger, who ran in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and was out the back throughout, before finishing like a train to claim fourth place. He ran well again at Aintree, but was unable to get any closer to Josses Hill there and the thought is that he will probably find one or two too good in this contest, but had sound place claims.
The Liquidator is another English contender who had looked the real deal in winning his first three novice hurdles following a successful bumper career. However the wheels came off in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown Park and he faded well out of contention in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. David Pipe will be hoping those last two efforts were not The Liquidator’s true form but it is hard at this stage to make a strong claim for him beating the likely hot favourite.
Valseur Lido, like Faugheen, represents Ireland’s Champion Trainer Willie Mullins. He won his first two starts in Ireland following his transfer from France but found the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle all a bit too much. He returned at Fairyhouse to beat Real Steel most impressively in a Grade 2 event and is open to further improvement.
Western Boy’s hat-trick bid was thwarted by Faugheen’s stable mate Vautour in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle here in February and he finished further behind that horse when seventh in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He is capable of better and is another with strong place claims.
Wicklow Brave completes the Willie Mullins trio of runners and put together a run of 5 successive wins before running well in defeat in the Supreme. He was then most disappointing at Fairyhouse in the race won by Valseur Lido and needs a lot more to figure here.
The Boylesports.com Champion Chase may lack the outstanding 2 miler of the season in Sire De Grugy, but plenty of his rivals are in opposition here in what looks to be an open contest.
Baily Green has had a disappointing season on the whole but showed hints of a return to form with a fine effort to finish second to Bog Warrior at Naas at the end of last month.
Ballynagour has his second start outside of handicap company having won the Byrne Group Plate at Cheltenham in terrific style. Next time out he was pitched into the Grade 1 Melling Chase and acquitted himself well to finish third, without ever looking like beating Boston Bob. Interestingly he drops down to 2 miles for the first time since he moved to David Pipe’s yard.
Days Hotel is useful on his day but has always been found wanting in Grade 1 competition, including his latest effort when well behind in Boston Bob’s race. He had earlier won a Grade 2 at Naas in February but looks more likely to place than win here.
Hidden Cyclone has enjoyed a great season and now drops down to 2 miles for the first time since winning a Grade 3 contest in October 2012. Since winning at Listowel in October, Hidden Cyclone has placed in the Paddy Power Gold Cup and finished second in three Grade 1 events to Benefficient, Sire De Grugy and then Dynaste in the Ryanair Chase. One might say he is due a Grade 1 victory and he looks to have a massive chance if reproducing his recent form.
Module travels over from England and Tom George’s 7 year old looks a real danger. He is progressive and followed up his narrow victory in the Game Spirit Chase with a big performance to finish third to Sire De Grugy in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Savello showed little form earlier in the season but bounced back to his best form last time out when winning the Grand Annual Chase and is reunited with Davy Russell here.
The Sizing Europe of even a year ago would likely be favourite for this race. This grand old champion ran a mighty race here last year to give Sprinter Sacre a real fight but this term has seemed slightly on the downgrade as Father Time has started to catch up. He still ran an excellent race and was still in contention turning for home in the Queen Mother Champion Chase but his old legs just could not go with Sire De Grugy and co and he eventually ended up finishing fourth. He might just have one more glorious Grade 1 in him and if so, this looks to be the race and would be a fitting seal on a tremendous career.
Despite being firmly put in his place twice by Sire De Grugy, Somersby has had a good season, winning the Haldon Gold Cup in which he just pipped Module – and finishing second in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. He has been knocking on the door in Grade 1 contests and it would not be a shock if he were to succeed here but generally he finds one too good at this level.
Turban won the Grade 2 Dan Moore in February before finding Argocat too good at Gowran Park in the Red Mills Chase. He fell on his next start and looks to have plenty on his plate with these rivals.
Twinlight drops back to 2 miles here and had a good start to this season. However his jumping has proved his undoing on more than one occasion this term and he was comfortably seen off by Arvika Ligeonniere last time and looks as though he needs to find more improvement in Grade 1 level.
The Growise Champion Novice Chase completes the hat-trick of Grade 1 contests on the opening day of Punchestown and looks an open event with 7 runners over 3 miles and a furlong.
Ballycasey had looked a real class act when beating Don Cossack by 4 lengths in the Dr P.J. Moriarty Novice Chase at Leopardstown and ran well when fading into fourth in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham. He appeared to have the race at his mercy when dramatically falling in the Powers Gold Cup at Fairyhouse just over a week ago and assuming he is over that incident, looks a big player here.
Carlingford Lough has had a break since finishing sixth in that RSA Chase and perhaps that run suggested he lacks a little bit of toe at the very highest class. Even so, he has had a brilliant season and highlights included winning the Galway Plate and the Grade 1 Topaz Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Don Cossack is another to acquitted himself well over fences this term and comes into consideration here. Having won the Grade 1 Drinmore Chase (in which he beat Carlingford Lough) he was then behind Ballycasey At Leopardstown and then fell heavily in the RSA Chase. He ran well at Aintree but finished 10 lengths adrift of Holywell and it remains to be seen if he remains fresh or has had a long and tiring season.
Letter Of Credit arrives here having finished mid-division in last week’s Irish Grand National. He has run well this term but his placed efforts in Grade 2 and 3 chases suggests he may come up a little short here.
Morning Assembly looked the leading Irish novice before Christmas recording a fine victory over Don Cossack in the Florida Pearl Novice Chase. However he was then beaten fair and square by Carlingford Lough at Leopardstown and ran third in the RSA Chase, finishing ahead of Ballycasey on that occasion. He looks capable of winning a Grade 1 as a novice and has a big chance here.
Mozoltov’s season has been a mixture of dominant displays and bad jumping. He has won on 3 of his 4 completed efforts but was soundly beaten into third behind Trifolium. However, his Naas victory in February was despite a calamitous mistake and he fell at the first fence in the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham. Having jumped well at Navan at the end of March, his frailties returned in the Powers Gold Cup last week and at this grade, his jumping will come in for close scrutiny.
Djakadam had looked a really exciting prospect when extending his unbeaten run to 2 over fences in the Killiney Novice Chase in January. However he too ended up on the deck in the JLT Chase at Cheltenham but remains open to improvement.